Nathan Bransford, Author

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

How Do You Feel About the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Contest?

It's that time of year.

Lots of people have been asking me about my thoughts on this contest, but for reasons of professional discretion I'd rather not weigh in.


There are lots of knowledgeable people around these parts who would be able to tell you a thing or two about the contest and their experiences entering last year.

What do the real experts have to say? Anyone have any questions for them? Is this contest either a breakthrough or novel?


Anonymous said...

The Anonymi a place where you can say what you really think, Nathan.

My own opinion on contests, it is a good place to learn, but do not take everything said to heart and necessarily apply to your own writing, or we'll all sound alike. Plus I don't think I want my MSS, unless I am the winner of course, revealed to everyone. What if someone takes my ideas before I manage to get published?

Michael said...

I can't seem to get a definitive answer to this question on their they reveal the entire manuscript to the public? If so, is this really a good idea?

Roland said...

I entered.

I like the submission process. It was very easy, and I can go back and edit my submission as much as I want right up until the deadline, Feb 9. Until then, It's already submitted, so there's no worry about missing the deadline or getting bumped out after 10,000 submissions are accepted.

As far as guarding your idea, I'm assuming you already wrote the novel which puts you ahead of those horrid idea thieves by like a year. If you think the idea is genuinely fresh and that you have the skill to write it well, then I don't see why you'd worry about copycats.

Anonymous said...

I'm with Anon 8:57. (per the last comments on the last thread, I like being Anon to say what I think...)

I think, that if Penguin can't get back to me about my agented book they've had for going on five months now, they have no business trying to garner outside authors.

However, I do wish the contestants luck and hope their book does well if they happen to win.

What book won last year? I don't remember hearing about it? I wonder if "winning the contest" is just a publicity thing? Seems like a lot of trouble if it is.

Roland said...


I believe your pitch is revealed to the public, your first chapter is revealed only to members, and the full manuscript is only revealed to the qualified judges after thousands of entries have been weeded out by the first two stages.

That's at least how I understand it.

Anonymous said...

I'm with 8:57 and 9:07.

But I also frown on this kind of contest. It's American Idol of commercial lit: mainly sound and fury, signifying little more than a popularity contest.

Sign me: 7:35 ;)

acpaul said...

Although I entered, I'm not sure that the whole thing isn't just a way of trying to get the "losers" to self-publish through them.

Lee Ann said...

Having known two authors who did this competition with one being one of the final 10, this is a crapshoot.

The finalist received zero interest from anyone. Plus, she actually was a previously published author and really shouldn't have been competing.

The other author felt her submission was strong, but couldn't figure out why she didn't do well and some of the comments she received were very bizarre. She has since returned to the traditional route and has received much better feedback.

I'd pass on it.

Sandy said...

Eh, I don't really like the idea of having to accept the contract 'as is'. I mean, we're all looking for agents for a reason, right? They negotiate these things for us. I have no idea what all that legalese stuff really means.

Davin Malasarn said...

I haven't decided if I would enter or not, but I did some reading about it. The book that won last year was called Fresh Kills by Bill Loehfelm. Out of the top ten finalists, 4 got publishing contracts.

Roland said...

Michael, here's the info:

Initial Round: Expert reviewers from Amazon select 2,000 submissions from the 10,000 initial entries based each novel's "pitch." The 2,000 entries are then rated and receive two excerpt reviews from Amazon Editors and Amazon Vine Reviewers.

The field narrows to 500 entries...

Quarterfinals: Excerpts of the 500 are displayed on along with the reviews from the previous judging round. Publisher's Weekly now reads, rates, and reviews the 500 remaining full manuscripts.

The field narrows to 100...

Semifinals: Penguin Group (USA) reads and ranks the 100 semifinalists, taking into consideration the reviews from the two previous judging rounds.

Penguin chooses three novels to move to the final round of judging...

Finals: The three remaining manuscripts receive reviews from industry experts, including authors Sue Grafton and Sue Monk Kidd. customers select the Grand Prize Winner for 2009.

So your full manuscript is only seen by the expert judges and only if you make it the final round.

It looks like the winner is chosen by Amazon select customers based on reviews submitted by the judges. That's, um, weird.

Anonymous said...

This was my experience with the Amazon contest last year: I made the semi-finals, which meant my excerpt and pitch were available.

The rules were that the great unwashed (i.e., general public) were free to read and comment on the excerpt, and Publishers Weekly and an Amazon Top Reviewer were also going to have a sniff: the Amazon reviewer read the excerpt, and PW was going to read the whole thing.

The basis for judging was allegedly a combination of all three, but as many authors in the contest noted, it seemed as if only the PW review had any weight.

Which is why it was so infuriating that PW wrote a review of my book WITHOUT ACTUALLY READING IT.

From the review it was quite clear: there were three major characters in the book, and the review got important facts about them wrong.

For example, one character's problem was, essentially, that his world was falling apart and he was going broke, and in danger of dropping out of college. PW characterized him as "privileged."

Another character was characterized by as being the protagonist's girlfriend ... despite about seven chapters that detail his failing efforts to become her boyfriend.

You know, little details like that.

This year they seem to have learned from their mistakes. The first round is essentially a pitch contest. They're taking up to 10,000 submissions, and then cutting to about the top 2,000 (instead of 5K last year) on the basis of the pitch alone.

Then, presumably, since they'll have 40% as many manuscripts, they'll have PW reviewers who can actually read them.

Then again, Publishers Weekly is hardly all that and a bag of chips. I saw their review of Carl Hiaasen's "Tourist Season," which contained this last line: "This is an auspicious solo debut for the serious Hiaasen ... but a lukewarm one for him as a potential comic-absurdist."

Good call on that one, PW.

Bottom line: It can't hurt to enter the pitch contest. If you make it to the quarter finals, you may or may not get a fair read. And at the end of the day, I suppose "may or may not get a fair read" is the most you can hope for in this world.

Anonymous said...

Also haven't decided as to whether to enter or not.

I entered the last time and it was a big mess. Writers crying that Amazon didn't have enough reviewers set up. People saying that they didn't believe their work was ever read. So-called "bad" books making to the semi-finals, while so-called "better" books not. I don't know if it's going to better this round. But I was on the forums with all the other writers the last time around and I saw some 'hard evidence' that made me wary of the contest as a whole. I wanted to enter this year, but not interested in the stress I endured before.

ryan field said...

I did one on Gather a few years ago. The thing I liked best were the comments from readers.

Dave Wood said...

I believe Roland is right about who can read what during the contest. A friend did well in the first one (final round and top in his genre, if I recall correctly). He felt it helped fill out the bio section of his query and got him some extra attention from the agent who took him on. Doesn't seem to help much with a final decision from the publishers, which is to be expected. I've read the book and it seemed as though the professional review was for almost an entirely different book. It was also interesting to see the reading public's comments. There seem to be pros and cons, and the value of the contest is really a matter of taste both for the author and for agents. My friend is planning on submitting another novel this time, so he must feel it was worthwhile.

selestial-owg said...

To 7:35(who posted at a different time, but wanted to be referred to as 7:35 for some odd reason)...

The "American Idol of commercial lit"? "Popularity contest"?

You do realize that popular authors sell, right? You do know the numbers of albums that American Idols (and finalists that didn't even win - Daughtry anyone?) have sold is HUGE, right?

I'm sorry, say you think the contest is a load of crap, that's fine, but comparing it to a TV show that generates multi-platinum artists and saying that's a bad thing is just silly.

Katiebabs a.k.a KB said...

I entered. What do I have to lose?

The Rat said...

I don't know. Just sending out my manuscript like that into a black hole of cyberspace for someone who will remain nameless scares me. At least with my queries, I know who I'm sending it to. They have a name, I've done my research and know what they are looking for. I decided not to enter it. I'll take my chances via the old-fashioned way. SASE and a query, baby!

Nixy Valentine said...

I thought about entering it, but decided not to because my book has a racy scene in it, and they said "no explicit sex". I am not sure exactly what that means to them, but the scene was too integral to the story to just edit it out for the benefit of the contest.

The prize is very tempting, but I'm not sure I feel comfortable with the process, and then whole "You have to accept the contract as-is" seemed ominous and unfriendly.

Then there's the comments left by amazon users. Last year's winner has some strange comments left for him, seemingly by people who are either mad that they (or perhaps their favourite) did NOT win. Amazon reviews are suspect in normal circumstances, and this contest was certainly not normal.

In the end, I decided that if my book is good enough to win that contest, it's good enough to get a good agent who will help me find the right publisher.

Anonymous said...

Anon 9:27,

I think part of the problem with these contests is that the industry fails to recognize the bad PR they generate. Apparently, the goals are buzz and hype only. Somehow, the corporate powers that be ignore the bad feelings generated by the contest mechanics. They don't "get it" that a responsible business shouldn't want customers going around telling people what an awful experience they had.

Does that make sense?

Anon 7:35

(I feel like the guy who appeared at baseball games with the "John 3:16" sign, LOL. I wonder if his alter ego was running around with "Damian 6:66.")

Dara said...

I had signed up earlier but then reconsidered it.

I'll just go through the normal process, at least for now. :)

Jade said...

I think it's a really great idea.

I entered the first contest and had to withdraw my entry after my book got accepted a couple of months later by a local publisher. My experience of the Breakthrough Novel Award was really good. It was easy to enter, they kept you informed and excited throughout, and it was easy to withdraw.

I followed the competition closely and I was so impressed by the top 10 entries - ultimately my chosen favourite didn't win although I understand that since then, he has also received a publishing contract.

As with any voting competition (Idols?) I guess there will be a degree to which the general public can manipulate the votes. I agree with another poster that Publishers' Weekly reviews did carry a lot of weight - but then, a reviewer might like your book or might not - that's the hard cruel world for you!

I think this competition is brilliant because it's creating a real buzz of excitement around books, reading and writing, and giving new authors a platform to promote their work. I'm hugely in favour of it, and I hope it becomes an annual event. I'm sure that it will evolve over time as they discover what does and doesn't work.

Kristan said...

I JUST left a comment on Writer Unboxed's post about ABNA today:

Basically I monitored the contest last year and entered this year just to see how it goes. I have no illusions that I'll win, but I am curious to see what I learn.

At the end of the day, I view it as another opportunity.

Anonymous said...

Nathan, the facts that

1. You are the nicest man in publishing and

2. You won't tell us your opinion of this contest

helps me to infer what you really think about it.

If you can't say something nice about something, don't say anything at all.

Scott said...

I've been to the site a few times, and am considering it, but my stuff is just not "contest" material. It's too edgy, maybe, and likes to play with taboos. The last time I entered a contest with one of my screenplays, I was $50 in the hole and I lost to a guy who wrote a story about Korean immigrants, based on his own life story. My story was about a desperate guy who killed his family and then himself and ended up in a beautiful seaside afterlife. I'm just never going to be the "darling" of the literary world, I don't think, and that's what these contests seem to be trying to foster.

But I like the idea that a pitch acceptance can possibly get an agent's attention, and the comments sound like a hoot. But if I have my story read back to me and it's all wrong...well, that's the stuff sleepless nights are made of, and I have enough of those.

Still undecided.

Anonymous said...

Anon 9:53, perhaps we should all consider that, in law, silence denotes consent. ;)

raballard said...

I made a conscience effort not to analyze entering the Breakthrough Novel contest, before I could over-analyze entering. I was told not to waste my time, because the contest would be akin to buying a lottery ticket, any chances of winning are slim. You can’t win the lottery without the ticket, and you can’t win the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award without entering. Of course, the official “bean” counters from the lottery will not send you an Email notification if you win, nor will they analyze you selection of six random numbers.

I will do almost anything to be published, with the exception of selling my soul to the devil. He already owns it, a little business transaction years ago. I wanted a pony for my little brother. I out grew the pony, I do miss my brother. I hear he does help desk for one of the devil’s subsidiaries.

In short (too late for that, huh) I welcome the chance to enter the Amazon Breakthrough Novel contest. I only wish they had a quick pick choice.

CB said...

The contest gives you a little insight into the easy world of submitting your pitches and the impossible odds of getting published.

The Screaming Guppy said...

I entered as well. I agree with the thinking "what can it hurt?" It really is just one more way to get yourself out there. Seems to me the worst that can happen is to lose. Doesn't seem much different from getting a rejection letter from an agent.

Deirdre Mundy said...

I write children's and my book is only 40,000 words, so the contest isn't even OPEN to me!

Oh well, back to the agent querying grind....

Anonymous said...


We have to be related!

7:38 :)

T.D. Newton said...

The bottom line for me was that the contest is free to enter. And, with that book "finished", I can work on other stuff without wondering if I should tweak it more. I used it as a good deadline to finish a project and then an excuse to fully devote my attention to another book. If I win, awesome, if I don't, fine - I will go the traditional route with the book once the results are tallied.

Jade said...

Another thing I liked about this contest is that the pitch and the summary of your book were subject to very tight and inflexible word restrictions. I sweated blood over writing these, and it was great practice for creating a condensed version of the plot / premise that could then be used in a query letter or synopsis.

My "real job" is an editor of a hair and beauty magazine, and in this industry, up and coming hairdressers are always strongly encouraged to enter competitions. The idea is that even if they don't come anywhere, simply entering will hone their skills and give them valuable experience. I think the same applies to writing.

Mira said...

Well, I think contests like this are blatantly unfair. They discriminate against authors, like me, who haven't actually finished a book.

That makes it very hard to win the contest, something I would very much like to do.

I'm thinking of filing a complaint. Of course, I haven't written a complaint.

That just makes this whole thing even more unfair.

Marilyn Peake said...

I think it's one more path for novels that have been rejected by literary agents and/or the big publishing houses because it's doubtful that winners will get the best deal they could get with an agent. That said, winning the contest could be a great first step in launching a writer's career. On the other hand, I know a fairly good writer who became a Finalist in the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Contest. She had already won another major award for writing, published a different novel through a small publishing house, marketed like crazy...then realized she was running out of money, left full-time writing for a paying job and has all but disappeared from the writing scene. I'd say the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Contest is a gamble...for the writers, not for Amazon or the publishing house involved.

terryd said...

I'm in.

These are tough times for new writers, and unconventional tactics are called for. As a Marine general said during the battle of Chosin Reservoir: "We're not retreating. We're merely advancing in another direction."

The odds of winning ABNA are astronomical, so I'm also purchasing lottery tickets. [rim shot]

But I'd love to hear your take on this, Nathan. If a writer who won or placed in such a contest queried you with his/her next book, would the writer's affiliation with the contest have a positive or negative effect upon your response?

Roland said...

Mira, make sure you call them to make that complaint. It's so much more immediate than a silly letter or email. Plus, people in this business like seeing initiative like that in unpublished authors who haven't written anything.

Anonymous said...

Anon 7:35

You're absolutely correct. Which is why I rather focus on writing than this contest.

-Anon 9:27

Nathan Bransford said...


Well, without addressing the contest specifically, I would still suggest that people not include their reviews from this contest in their query, because IMO they wildly oversell the quality of the works, so I just ignore them.

visionscript said...

I entered last year with a version of my novel I affectionately term 'pooh' cause it was a pile of do do at that point. ABNA promptly tossed it out of the competition.

I agree there were problems last year, but so many changes have been made, it's been quite a positive experience so far.

The contest is the only one I've ever entered. I'm an regular customer. The forum is great. We learn from each other and support each other and get inspired.

Personally: My novel has not been read by an agent or publisher, partly because I don't like rejection, so I haven't really made a decent effort. I've not even hassled Nathan. I've steadily worked on becoming a better writer.

I've learned to write a pitch in the ABNA forum. I start with, if Sylvia Browne were to compile a fictional work, it might be similar to American Clique, a 107K word paranormal edgy Upper Ya geared toward the Adult market.

Right now, because of my total lack of ability to sell myself, ABNA has the exclusive. People like myself definitely make this a breakthrough contest.

Anonymous said...

whine, whine, whine.

It's a perfectly legit means of garnering attention for the various participating sites, for the publisher and for not only those authors who win but for those who score high in the semi-finals.

I'm in and I expect good things.

Anonymous said...

Anon 10:52

So you entered, that's nice. But do try to refrain from putting your fellow writers down because they have a different opinion on the matter. (why the: whine whine whine?)

T. Anne said...

I entered. It is, what it is. Back to my query's and WIP.

terryd said...

Thanks, Nathan. Good advice, as always.

Kristan said...

LOL to Mira!

Anonymous said...

I remember last year there was at least one ms that received 400+ sterling reviews from readers and didn't make the next cut.

Doesn't seem to be any less of a crapshoot than submitting to an agent, frankly.

Anonymous said...


I'm curious if agents watch those contests. If so, and someone puts a not so good version or query and then you see it later, does that turn you off to the book? or what about the fact that it didn't win, so maybe the interest is just not out there for it? or possibly even making an agent think that it has already been done?

I guess I worry about over exposure to my MSS. Maybe I'm just paranoid.

Amy said...

Hi Nathan -

How about The Bachelor? I want to read a book written by Stephanie on how she moved on after the death of her husband. What a sweet lady. Greatest episode ever...

Now to the issue. I entered, I'm excited, as I'm unagented I think it's a great way to perhaps get Penguin to read my book. The economy stinks, I need to take any shot I can. And, the contest was fun last year, I got some helpful feedback that helped my improve my writing.

If I had an agent and a bunch of publishing houses were reading my book, I personally wouldn't enter, maybe a better offer would come up, who knows.

Now - a question for you. If I made the top 100 out of 10,000 entries. Would you want to know that in my query, or is this a no-no?

lindacassidylewis said...

Mira, you're hilarious!

Nathan Bransford said...

Amy and anon-

Regardless of how I feel about the contest itself, I honestly don't put much stock in the results. Sorry! You can mention you were a semi-finalist, but I just haven't really been impressed with the correlation between Amazon semi-finalist status and quality of manuscript.

And Stephanie was tremendous. She's so nice!!

Audrianna said...

I believe I'm totally one hundred percent parnoid. I don't think I could trust that putting my manuscript online, where it seems anyone can hack onto your server, and risk losing all my work. Its different when you're submitting it to an agent. You know its going directly to them, or possibly a co-worker.

I'm just not so sure about the whole contest thing...

Amy said...

Okay Nathan, thanks as always for your response. You offer tremendous insight to those of us trying to publish a novel.

as meredith said...

I see this contest not as an opportunity for an unpublished writer but as one publisher's attempt to see if there's a new business model for creating buzz around a book, in this new participatory media environment we all find ourselves in.

That's where the 'American Idol' comparison comes in--creating an audience by giving the public a role in the process. And, at the same time, creating a hook that hopefully will result in greater publicity for the books, the winning authors and ultimately the publishing house.

There's nothing wrong or bad about it, it's just part of the new way of doing business. In my opinion.

Anonymous said...

the whine line was a response to my "fellow writers" who automatically put down these sorts of contests and their participants.

if your book is languishing in Penguin slush or on some editor's desk but some other writer "jumps to the front of the line" via a contest you didn't even enter, how is that a strike against you?

why should that writer be put down?

i think there are as many roads as there are writers. whatever works, y'know?

Wanda B. Ontheshelves said...

I entered ONLY for selfish personal reasons - practice writing a 300-word description, a pitch less than 300 words (I guess that means 299), and then all that bio / local interest stuff - what comes to mind is mountain climbing, or running a marathon - deadline is 02/08 or 10,000 entries - I wonder how many entries they have so far? Anyway its good practice from a purely self-interested point of view.

Amanda said...

I'm bummed about this contest. I got all ready for it, and planned to enter, but went back to find out exactly what time it opened and realized I was ineligible. I am the spouse of an employee of the parent of Penguin Group. Yeah. No contest for me. :(

Lynne said...

Last years? It was a vile "adventure" in terms of
Amazon's participation. The contestants made up for it by being extremely helpful to each other. Nice people entered. Amazon let all of them down, and seldom bothered to reply to any valid questions. It was a 1 in 5000 chance of winning. Neat the end, no one really cared, and
I have NO clue who won. A lot of nice writers, though.

Scott said...

Okay, I went back to the contest for a fourth time because of come of the comments here and because it's free and I had the time.

Once I navigated the necessary tributaries in route to actually putting in my info, I found myself being asked to sign up for CreateSpace, who's logos surround the competition like a flock of vultures. It gave me a very unsettling feeling.

The success of this contest is based on how much business CreatSpace gets from the entrants, not on Amazon breaking out an author. I mean, Amazon doesn't need the publicity, but I'm sure it wouldn't mind a leg up on Lulu and other on-demand self-publishers. Sure, the winners likely get further in their careers than if they never entered, but from what I'm hearing, the path there is suspect to say the least.

Best of luck to all those who entered. I'm gonna pass, I think.

Doug said...

I entered last year and agree that the PW review seemed like the only one that was taken seriously. My PW review also had a number of inaccuracies, but, I did learn something. It was one of the first times where I did get some critical feedback, which I have taken to heart. Will I do it again? I'm working on it, but I may not make the deadline.

Vancouver Dame said...

I decided not to enter the contest for several reasons. I entered a similar one for flash fiction in December and found it to be annoying at most. I've also read some of the reviews which get posted on Amazon and the quality of the comments isn't that impressive. There are other ways to get feedback on your writing other than going into the gladiatorial area. I think the comparison to American Idol is appropriate, as someone pointed out.

I also agree that if you have a unique idea, it's easy enough after seeing the initial first chapters to have that idea stolen by the unscrupulous. A lot of 'writer beware' sites caution that there have been many incidents of this occurring. Most caution writers against posting their work online, unless the writer intends to offer it for free. Perceptions about this practice vary with different generations of writers.

My gut instinct was No, not at this time. There are too many other avenues I would prefer to try first.

Anonymous said...

It's possible you'd have a better chance of getting published the contest route. There, your work isn't automatically rejected by some teenage intern, enamored exclusively by chick lit and anything paranormal, who is putting in her time at a big name literary agency.

Mira said...

I appreciate everyone's support about my complaint. Honestly, it's like no one cares about the unpublished author who hasn't written anything. We have feelings too.

Roland, I like your idea of a phone call to show my initiative. I've decided to make those calls not to the judges, however, but to their mothers.

When someone is misbehaving, it's best to go to the person who wields the most power.

Nathan Bransford said...


All due respect, by that description it doesn't sound like you've met many publishing assistants or interns.

jmd said...

In the end, I decided not to enter. Reading the interview with Mr. Washington certainly made me feel I'd made the right decision.

Nixy Valentine, you said it best: "In the end, I decided that if my book is good enough to win that contest, it's good enough to get a good agent who will help me find the right publisher."

Me too. I am going to stick to the traditional route for my novel. Although I did recently enter the James Jones First Novel Fellowship contest. You don't win publication there, just bragging rights.

I notice a lot of people have entered the ABNA and are still querying agents. This feels wrong to me. I was under the impression that if you entered that you needed to put your search for an agent on hold.

Jarucia said...

I entered this contest last year and this year as well.

I see it much more as an exercise prepping myself for the query process more than anything else.

I have a kick-butt 300 word pitch and my MS is sparkling.

Just some points:

~Yep, among other things, it probably is, as some one put it, a thinly veiled attempt for Amazon to promote their Create Space brand

~IF you make the top ten, only 50 pages are shown to the public

~Reviews of the 10k pitches done by Amazon editor folk, review of the 2k excerpts (3-5kwords) is done by Vine Reviewers and Top reviewers. BTW as as Vine reviewer and contest participant I had to decline, BUT those who except will have to read and review 40 excerpts over two weeks with a prize of a Kindle at the end.

~You have a 1/10,000 of winning...these are not astronomical odds.

~You have a 95% of having your excerpt read by the public, that's almost as good odds as being asked for a partial from an agent, so in that way it does give you a taste for the querying process...sort of

~4 of the Top 10 were given publishing contracts, however there were more who found agents and other publishing offers via the contest exposure...not tons, but some.

~The person with '400' glowing customer reviews had closer to 300, I know her personally, and she is a master of getting things done. She now operates the non-profit journal Conclave.

~Customer reviews didn't matter last year until the Top 10 and Top 3, but we didn't know that until then. This year we know that.

~If nothing else, entering this contest means you'll make new friends.

IMHO, it is much better organized this year, but unless it produces a wildly popular book, it's going to be hard pressed to Nathan put it, ABNA placement doesn't hold much value as of now.

Folks will eventually shun participation if the pay-off in publication or at least prestige doesn't pan out.

Michael said...

To me it kind of seems like the "American Idol" of the literary world. I'm not sure how I feel about that. I kind of want to think that the novel chosen could have been published the traditional way, but with the contest, the public just got to see the process.

Jarucia said...


If you enter the contest you DO NOT need to hold off on querying agents. Agented folks can enter.

In the "Grant of Rights" portion of the rules it's fairly clear that Penguin has first right of refusal to publish until you're kicked out of the contest (so that will be 95% of folks come March 16)...then they retain that right so long as they've expressed an interest in publishing (30 days goodwill). Even then, if you have another offer from another publisher and Penguin really wants you they have the right to counter with 5 days of notification, or something like that.

You're only REALLY locked in if you make it past the quarterfinals. Then it's something like 30-days good faith negotiating for anything they want to publish.

Honestly, it's the ONE winner of the contest with the least wiggle room.

Anonymous said...


Those top 10 could have gotten an agent regardless of the contest, don't you think?

If you can do well in the contest, can't you get an agent without the risk to your MSS?

Still paranoid.

Anonymous said...


Those top 10 could have gotten an agent regardless of the contest, don't you think?

If you can do well in the contest, can't you get an agent without the risk to your MSS?

Still paranoid.

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...


Wanda B. Ontheshelves said...

The 17th Annual James Jones First Novel Fellowship...

Deadline: Postmarked no later than 03/01/2009

"The award is intended to honor the spirit of unblinking honesty, determination, and insight into modern culture exemplified by the late James Jones, author of From Here to Eternity and other prose narratives of distinction..."

It's kind of depressing though...they want a 2-page synopsis of the entire novel...Amazon contest only requires 300 words! Oh, sensations of hideous frickin' depression...

Jarucia said...

Anon Double-o\ops.


I had better luck querying agents than I did in the contest. Though I'm still unagented...that's another story.

Of those top 10, I don't believe all could have found an agent, but that's my opinion.

I read and reviewed 250 of the 836 semifinalist excerpts (at first I wanted to see the competition and soon realized I had LOT'S of work to do as a writer, so I then pressed on to win a Kindle) and there were at least 3 in the Top 10 that I don't believed should be there.

Again, my opinion.

That's why I said the prep for this contest is almost more valuable than the prospect of winning. It certainly has brought my work and pitch to a point I feel MUCH better about querying again.

Anonymous said...

Wow 7 out of 10,000 books, what horrible entries they must have been.

Anonymous said...

oops 7 out of 5000 I believe someone said last years was.

Rick Daley said...

I think I say thank you to Nathan weekly, and I'll do that again today (thank you, Nathan), but I really want to thank everyone who is commenting for sharing your experiences.

I have heard about this contest, but I was not really aware of the details before today. You have all done a great job of pointing out pro's and con's, thanks!

WORD VERIFICATION: huryok. The unspoken plea of all writers and agents to their respective publishers to respond to submissions, and to distribute royalties.

Jarucia said...

Anon double-oops

Not to sound like a stuck up snob about last year's Top 10 or anything, I was just getting at that there were at least 15-20% of the entries I read that I thought were VERY good (some that should have been in the Top 10)and often made me think:

"Jeez, if these people aren't published, what's my chance?"

There was some very, very good material last year and I'm sure there will be more of it this year.

Still, all material is subject to the whims and moods of those reviewing.

Some one aptly noted on the ABNA forums that a reviewer assigned to 40 excerpts could read 39, get served a divorce subpoena then pick up your excerpt.

Subjectivity ultimately rules...isn't that what we hear time and again from agents when they say don't dishearten because "I've" rejected you?

Travis Erwin said...

I entered for several reasons.

1) I might get some vauluabel feedback.
2) I have close writing friend who made the top 100 last yea and had nothing but good today about the contest.
3) I know how hard it is to get a foot in the door and no way am I going to snub a cost free opportunity.
4) I beleive in myself a s a writer and storyteller and even thought eh odds are long feel as if I have as good shot as anyone. I guess it'll all come down to connecting with the people that judge. Either they find my novel to their liking or they don't but either way I'll still believe and keep querying.

sex scenes at starbucks said...

Really, isn't our time better spent on honing our writing and sending out queries?

Just_Me said...

One look at the experts they have and I pass. This is a contest for commercial/mainstream fiction. Maybe there's a thriller or two in the mix. But it isn't the right venue for what I write and would be a waste of time.

I hope the authors who compete can learn something from this, but it isn't a contest I'll recommend to anyone.

Zoe Winters said...


Urgh, the "no explicit sex" rules on contests and various things related to fiction irk the hell out of me. It feels like a mild form of censorship. And it's for god's sake, it's printed words on a page. How much more Puritan can get get here.

Most 13 year olds can access hard core photographic and video porn on the internet. Words on a page just aren't the same thing. IMO.

Carley said...

Thanks for the topic Nathan, it's one I've been pondering since I heard about it. I love hearing everyone elses thoughts on contest. However, I have decided entering it, call it a gut decision. It just didn't feel right.

Off the subject a bit, I do have to ask you, what are your thoughts on self publishing? I recently talked to a self published author, who was later (but quickly) picked up by Costco, and he told me to quit writing query letters and focus instead on writing the best novel possible. Then find 25 people who don't know you, get them to read it, and critique it for you. He says, then you'll know if you have something or not. It's what he did before publishing the book, and as he put it,"I hit the motherlode". What do you think? His advice goes against everything I've learned or read about the publishing world. Besides, call me old fashioned, but I like the idea of getting an agent to fight your battles for you, and having someone who knows the ins and outs of things. Anyway, just thought I'd ask and see if I could pick your brain for a minute! Thanks!

Lupina said...

Good luck and best wishes to all who enter but I also think Nixy said it best: "In the end, I decided that if my book is good enough to win that contest, it's good enough to get a good agent who will help me find the right publisher."

Besides, even though the contest doesn't officially keep you from getting an agent, I'd still feel I was tying up my material in a way, and I'm afraid it would distract me from my all-out query quest. But I'm easily distracted.

I'd love to hear how it goes for those of you who do enter.

Marilyn Peake said...

Out of curiosity, I went over to the site for the Amazon Breakthrough Novel contest. Some aspects look good to me, although only for the top winners: four winners from last year are now published by Penguin, reviews for top manuscripts from Publishers Weekly, expert panel of best-selling authors to review the top three manuscripts, and a moderate cash advance for winners. Could work out for those who actually win.

Susan Helene Gottfried said...

It's not for me and after reading that horridly snobby article from one of the judges last year, I feel bad for the people who DO enter.

But on a happier note, I read one of the runner up's books a few months back and it was quite good. Certainly quite a deal better than the best-seller I'd put down after page 5.

raballard said...

How does a non-agented writer catch the eye of a Literary Agent, if they are unable to post placement in any contest? If placing in the top 500 for a yet to be named contest? If that accomplishment is to be ignored by a non-specific Literary Agent. What are we to do? My Query Letter has been praised by agented authors, published authors, and non-agented authors. I have yet to get even one request for a partial.
Every one of my beta readers has enjoyed my manuscript. I have never met half of my beta readers. It is a tight market out there. I have no idea what else I can do to catch an eye. Must we run out of agents to query before we start over? Or shall we just give up and be content with the fact we have at least done something few have accomplished. We have written.
(I forgot to say second time poster, first time crier. I will hang up now and listen to your reply on air)

Reisa Stone said...

I entered a children's book last year. The submission process was unclear and difficult. However, this gave lots of opportunity to banter on the forum with other writers about common problems and hopes for the contest.

I had a concern that should I win, I would not get the best deal possible without agent.

My book didn't get picked up. Afterwards, Amazon tried to sell me their self-publishing program, but stopped emailing when I asked them to. I knew this was their intent when I entered; they didn't try to conceal their motive.

I felt it was worth a shot, and there were certainly no negative consequences. I wasn't even out an entry fee. If it tied up my ms for while, big deal. So does submitting to an agent.

A neutral experience, once I got past the disappointment of not winning.

Richard Lewis said...

Lee Ann says, "Plus, she actually was a previously published author and really shouldn't have been competing."

I'm not knocking Lee Ann. That's a valid sentiment but it is not in the rules.

I'm published and I entered a ms. that my agent hasn't shopped around.


Because this peer voting/public process seems to be one direction that publishing is taking and I am very curious to see how my story will fare and how far it will go. It might not make the pitch cut--which is fair enough, too. In my opinion, this this contest is a combination of crap shoot and popularity contest as well as a good story well told.

Mira said...


Don't give up! There are so many examples of wonderful books that were rejected several times before finding a publisher. Here are just a few examples:

(# of times rejected)

Diary of Anne Frank: 16 times
Watership Down: 26 times
A Wrinkle in Time: 26 times
Gone with the Wind: 38 times
Jonathan Livingston Seagull: 106 times

Willam Saroyan collected a pile 30 inches high.

Keep on, don't quit!

It always helps me feel better to check out the rotton rejections site whenever I feel discouraged:

raballard said...

Thanks Mira, giving up is not an option. Dr. Suess was rejected someting like 176 times. If he had given up there would be no hats for cats, the Grinch would be a greeter at Walmart, and Horton would be in the circus.
I refuse to give up, I might wimper a tad.

Mira said...


I just realized it was alittle gutsy to post that on an agent's blog.

No disrespect intended, Nathan. You know the industry as well as anyone, and much better than I, a writer who is not only unpublished but hasn't written anything, does.

Just trying to cheer up a fellow writer, who was discouraged.

Mira said...


Wimper away. Just let me know when, so I can join you.

Glad you're not giving up. Actually sounds like your book is really good.

Tom Burchfield said...

Sounds like too big of a pond to go splashing around in. And, unlike the lottery, it's a lot more work against--again, like the lottery--very great odds.

I entered various screenplay competitions with no results--which told me nothing about whether my scripts were good or bad. Anonymous 9:24 claimed his reader didn't read his book and I had a similar impression myself; or maybe they confused my script with another.

And so, I'm shrugging it off. I'd rather be part of a smaller, more discreet pool, at least right now.

raballard said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
raballard said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
gerriwritinglog said...

Is there a genre bias? That's my question about the ABNC. If there is, esp. against what I write, why bother entering? I'm never going to write something to please the literary crowd, and if the romance people get wound up about fantasy...



Anonymous said...


Raballard's blog isn't so much a read as it is a visit, and I'm happy to visit anytime!


Yes, your blog really is more of a visit than a read. It's just a comfy place to go to when things get a little crazy here and at work. If it becomes a book, well, I'd be happy for you.

Hope you don't mind my saying so!

Ohforcryingallnight... Do you believe this word verification? BACKEDIN.

With my luck, I'm surprised it's not backedUP.

Still Anon 7:35.
I love technology...

jmd said...

Very interesting discussion here.

Mira - I don't know about the other books you mentioned, but that rejection number on Gone With the Wind that you are quoting is a myth. It was NEVER rejected. Don't believe me? Here is a link to the letter-

ok. public service over.

Scott said...

Hey, anybody want to read Steven King throwing Stephenie Meyer and a couple of other popular authors under the bus?

Not trying to start trouble, but I thought what he said was kind of interesting.

Anonymous said...


That's cold.

(Heh heh heh...)

Thanks for the links.


Anonymous said...

I entered the contest last year, didn't get anywhere and spent way to much time hanging out in the chat groups.
This year, I submitted a novel book my writing group "really really likes," just to see what would happen.
My expectations are more realistic, and I'm not going to waste hours and hours chatting about the contest. In the meantime, I'm continuing to submit to agents and editors.

So it goes.

xjenavivex said...

Just wanted to let you know that I love the blog. I enjoy reading it. I wanted to share it with our community.

To comment on the topic, I think there is no harm in this kind of contest. It takes a long time to get to novel from idea. Many people even argue there are no new ideas, just different ways to present them. Thanks for the post.

Anonymous said...

I wish it had been me SK threw under the bus with my four best sellers.

jimnduncan said...

I entered, though honestly, it seems like winning the grand reviewer contest. If anyone pays attention to reviews on books, you can and usually do get the same book with A+ and F reviews. So, while decent stuff will likely make its way to the top when all is said and done, odds are there will be far more material that is likely better which gets put in the reject pile because they got the wrong reviewer at the wrong time. So, lots of luck to all who enter. If you have a decent story, your odds are just as good as anyone elses.

raballard said...

Anon. I don't mind being more of a visit then a read. You are welcome anytime.

Deniz Bevan said...

I don't have to worry about this, thank God, because I live in Quebec, which is always annoyingly exempt from fun contests. But I agree with Nixy that "In the end, I decided that if my book is good enough to win that contest, it's good enough to get a good agent who will help me find the right publisher."

Anonymous said...

Stephen King rocks, and I 100% agree with his thoughts on good and bad writers. Thanks for the article.

Mira said...

jmd -

Regarding Gone with the Wind.

Well, that's confusing. I admit that a author's letter in her own handwriting, saying that she never showed the novel to anyone is pretty compelling evidence.

But I did find the information on the internet that she had been rejected 38 times, and we all know that the internet is always accurate.

It's unfortunate that Margaret Mitchell is not with us today, so I could clear up for her how many times she was rejected. Clearly she was confused.

I don't think they had calculators in her time, so maybe that was the reason she got confused about whether she had been rejected 38 times, or never.

Anyway, I'm glad we had this discussion, so I could clear this up for you.


Arron Ferguson said...

This is a great example of innovative thinking on behalf of Amazon. Companies, organizations, and individuals who are embracing technology and using it to bring them potential business are the ones who are going to have a better chance of survival during this global recession.

Take for example the owner of this blog.


Anonymous said...

to Anon 5:39

Stephen King rocked the boat, and he rocks in his writing, but as was said in yesterday's blog this morning;

Every author that has fans and sells books is a good writer. Anyone who bad mouthes them in the public eye is only opening themselves for criticsm and they sound like they are being catty. There are so many types of personalities in this world, it is impossible to please all of them. I don't care for Stephen Kings writing, but I would never say he was bad at it. He said something to the effect about SM only appealing to teen girl hormones, but she also grabbed a lot of women fans and some teen boys; so she is obviously doing something right. It is not smart for anyine in the public eye to criticize something publicly, unless you are ready for the backlash; just ask the Dixie Chicks.

If you ever get famous you might remember that you once were a new author, and degrading people will do nothing but hurt feelings: Stephanie Meyers, James Patterson's, their fans, and some of their fans might possibly have been some of SK fans. SK, what was the point? To me it was stupid. You don't have bestsellers by being a bad writer. SK may have rocks for a brain when it comes to publicly speaking.

Anonymous said...

Am I missing something? I can't find where it says "no sex scenes." It says no hard-core porn. Help?

This is what I read was off-limits:

* Pornography. Pornography; X-rated movies; home porn; hard-core material, including magazines, that depict graphic sexual acts; amateur porn; soiled undergarments; sexual aid devices; and "adult-only" novelty items that are primarily sold through adult-only novelty stores and erotic boutiques are not permitted. Unrated erotic videos and DVDs and properly censored erotic artwork and magazines of the type you'd find at a typical bookstore are permitted. Nudity, graphic titles, and descriptions must be sufficiently concealed with censor strips on all items containing such content.


Anonymous said...

Plus this:

Sponsors reserve the right in their sole and unfettered discretion to disqualify at any time any Entry containing obscene, offensive, pornographic or sexually explicit material, or libelous, disparaging or other inappropriate content or subject matter or that are otherwise not in compliance with these Official Rules (as determined by Sponsors in their sole discretion).


J. Rupe-Boyd said...

After reading some of the posts I'm not sure I did the right thing by entering. I doubt that my middle fantasy will catch their eye but it's just as good as sending it off to some agent who could care less.

Michele Lee said...

I'm not sure where it says No Sex in the guidelines. There's a link to Amazon's content guidelines that say no pornography, but I see a lot of erotica or books with sex scenes being sold on Amazon every day. I sent in my book, sex scenes and all, because it's not nearly as explicit as many of the books Amazon already sells.

I guess we'll see.

Audrianna said...

Ha! Thanks for the link, Scott! I couldn't help but cover my mouth to hold in the laughter, then thought, "Eh, what the heck?" and burst out laughing.

And yes, people give me strange looks in my house.

VisionScript said...

And Jarucia: I'll never forget that foggy morning those horses coming round the house, the reason those two old guys were out there healing over that gorge.

Uh, Nathan, I almost called you a name over at abna. In fact, I believe I did. So sorry old chap. You'll forgive me, won't you? I haven't read this whole thread, but abna has made so many changes, you should wait and see what it accomplishes this year.

You know, people believe we write to tell ourselves how to behave.

I'm still in love with the movie, The Mystery of Rampo. Just occurred to me it must be a book I need to read if I could take it.

He would write something in a book and turn around and watch it play itself out before him in real life. I think writers don't pay close enough attention to what they help others to manifest.

I wanted to back Jarucia up on the fact there were some incredibly decent novels entered into abna last year. I only read the ones that I would actually take off the shelf, though, and boy does that narrow the field. Not because of writing, because of subject matter. There were some great fantasies, though, that I came across and fantasies aren't what I read either.

Wanda B. Ontheshelves said...

Re: "It is not smart for anyine in the public eye to criticize something publicly, unless you are ready for the backlash; just ask the Dixie Chicks."

I totally support the freedom of an artist to express their opinions on stage, in print, anywhere on just about any subject. It may be you are simply "ahead of your time" speaking out, and give someone else the courage to speak out as well. You may get backlash; you may also get a groundswell of support; or a mix of both.

I read Stephen King's comments - I didn't have a problem with them, because "that's his opinion." There are those who think King isn't much of a writer, and express that viewpoint as well.

Maybe when you start out as a public figure, you want to watch what you say - ?? - but I think people get to a point in their career, why not just say what you think? Paul McCartney admitted to taking LSD in an interview; afterwards he said, "I told the truth, and sometimes the truth hurts."

Vancouver Dame said...

Thanks to Scott for the links to the Stephen King article. I read it and agree with most of what he says. Subjectivity again. We are all entitled to our opinions. At his level of popularity I don't think he will suffer too much from any backlash. After reading his book 'On Writing. .', I had more respect for the guy, regardless of the genre he writes in. Amazon is a good place to order books, but their basis is marketing. That sums it up, IMO.

Anonymous said...

As someone who once interned at a boutique literary agency (where, granted, our predominant focus was screenplays), I am incredibly wary about these sorts of contests. My boss participated in a handful of contests and competitions as a judge, and he was a complete and utter idiot with no eye for talent. After that experience and talking with others, I realized that many of those who judge do so because they do not have a sufficient amount of work as an agent. For my boss, it was just a way to boost his own ego and get his name out there. He had no interest whatsoever in the contestants, even seemed to look down on them for not doing things the traditional way.

Polenth said...

Non-negotiable contracts are one of those 'Run away! Run away!' things for me. I don't want to get stuck signing away something stupid.

I also realise I'm too introverted to win that sort of public voting. Rallying votes isn't one of my skills. Not unless cloning an army of sentient fungi to vote would count.

Marilyn Peake said...

Interesting comments by Stephen King, especially since he's been called a hack writer by others in the past and his winning the National Book Award stirred up so much controversy. I remember reading another quote from Stephen King a while back about his own writing, in which he basically said that he writes with varying levels of skill, depending upon what he's able to come up with at a particular time. Personally, I think the writing in his Dark Tower series is brilliant. Here's an interesting excerpt from a New York Times article about King winning the National Book Award:
Told of Mr. King's selection, some in the literary world responded with laughter and dismay. "He is a man who writes what used to be called penny dreadfuls," said Harold Bloom, the Yale professor, critic and self-appointed custodian of the literary canon. "That they could believe that there is any literary value there or any aesthetic accomplishment or signs of an inventive human intelligence is simply a testimony to their own idiocy."

Richard Snyder, the former chief executive of Simon & Schuster, which is now Mr. King's publisher, and a co-founder of the awards organization, said, "I am startled every time you say it." He added: "You put him in the company of a lot of great writers, and the one has nothing to do with the other. He sells a lot of books. But is it literature? No."

Ten years ago Mr. King and another blockbuster author, John Grisham, bought tickets to the annual awards presentation on the premise that "that was the only way we were going to get in the door," Mr. King recalled in an interview. At the time, he said, he was pleasantly surprised then that "nobody treated us like poseurs and hacks, which I think was what in our hearts we really expected."

Anonymous said...

Upthread, someone called Amy said:

"The finalist received zero interest from anyone. Plus, she actually was a previously published author and really shouldn't have been competing."

Now, why shouldn't she be competing? There is no rule against it, so why not? I am a previously published author, but I am competing. My previous book(s) were not succesfull, the novel I have now submitted was roundly rejected by agents/publishers (one agent did take it on, but failed to find a pubisher) and as far as I am concerned I have as much right as anyone else to enter and try my luck.
Does anyone else see this as an ethical issue? Nathan?

Amy said...

Anon 11:03 - i just came back to read some comments and saw that you referenced my name in your post. I did NOT make that statement you are referring to, I don't care if published authors enter the competition. There's not rule against it.

Anonymous said...

Ah, me again, published Anonymous from the post above!
I just read Richard's post, another published author; he gives his reason for entering, and I'll give mine.
When this novel was submitted to editors, the feedback was invariably, "loved the book, wouldn't know how to market it". And my experience with publishing is that my downfall was the marketing; I am an unknown, and even having a book out there, the competition from other, better publicized books is so huge it really is sink or swim... I sunk, even though I tried hard to swim.
I believe that if I should be one of the winners (any one of them) there'd be a lot of buzz, and buzz was exactly what was missing the last time around. It's what I want. I don't care about the restricted contract. I've done the agent/publisher rounds with this one, been soundly rejected, and this is chance to be seriously read by industry people AND readers. A second chance. And it's free I have nothing to lose, nothing at all.

Bill Loehfelm said...

I entered the ABNA contest last year, and I won. What's happened since then?
After he read the full manuscript, I signed with a NY agent whose clients appear on the NYT Best Seller list as well as the Booker Prize short list. FRESH KILLS was published in August by Putnam, to favorable reviews from the Baltimore Sun, the Associated Press, and Entertainment Weekly, among others. Sales have been solid, if not spectacular, and the novel will appear in trade paperback this July. I've signed a second contract w/Putnam and that novel, BLOODROOT, will be published in early September.

After the initial publication of FRESH KILLS, Penguin's contest obligations were fulfilled. Everything that followed was done on the strength of my work.

What does all this mean? Probably not much to anyone outside of me, my wife, and my family. But the contest gave me a shot at making a living writing books, which is what I now do. Some people in the "real" publishing world think I'm pretty good and I hope to reward their faith. Isn't that what every writer wants? To get their work in front of someone who will show a little faith in it?

Who knows? A year from now I may be back behind the bar. But tonight I'm a novelist and it feels pretty good.

Emily Cross said...

i think everyones made good points for both pro/con camps. I think that apart from previous years vetting system - its a good way of honing your skills. . .

but similar to what Nixy said,

if you don't query penguin directly normally why would you for a competition?

The idea of 'accepting' a legal contract which binds me so completely is frightening.

In the real world, at least you could go looking for representation before signing the dotted line to get a better deal - with this you don't have that option.

Theres a reason why people seek representation by agents over going straight to publisher

anyhoo, Good luck to those who entered - i'm with Mira, going to write that complaint. . well as soon as i get this pesky prologue done. . . .

Anonymous said...

Emily, I suppose it all depends on where you stand in the publisheing process.

For someone just starting out, who has not done the rounds of submission and rejection, it's probably better to go the regular path and hope for a better deal.

For those of us who have been submitting for years without success, it's a new option; let's just say that I'd rather have the Penguin contract than no contract, which is what I've had for the last few years. Besides the one I submitted I have two more finished manuscripts. Should a miracle take place and I end up in the short-short-list I am sure that selling them with a better contract will be a LOT easier!

Like I said above, I have nothing to lose and everything to win.

Good luck to all entrants! I'm not particularly excited or optimistic, but it wouldd be great to make it through a round or two.

Anonymous said...

Bill, I'm curious... does you agent get a commission for your winning book? Or only for the ones that follow?
I'm thinking that since the contract is not negotiable I would not need or want an agent if I should win the main prize.

Rick Daley said...

I see this thread has taken a turn...

I read the Stephen King interview too, although the version I read on Yahoo was abbreviated from the link Scott posted.

I haven't read Twilight yet, but I plan to. My wife just finished the series. It will be nice to have her back. After she started, she was completely absorbed. She finished a book, and the next day she came home with the next one. Did that for all four books in the series. It's funny how "bad writing" can be a good read.

I don't know all the criteria for classifying writing as good or bad. I am in a couple online critique groups, and I have encountered writing that I would rate very low based on syntax (the mechanics of how a sentence is structured) and rhetoric (the ability to use language effectively to convey a thought), but those examples are so bad you would never expect to see them in publication. If they were published in the condition in which I read them, I would place the blame equally on the editors.

I think, good or bad, Stephanie Meyers' writing can be classified as "successful," along with Stephen King, John Grisham, Dan Brown, and anyone else who has taken a pounding for entertaining millions of readers.

And Mr. Harold Bloom, in stating "That they could believe that there is any literary value there or any aesthetic accomplishment or signs of an inventive human intelligence is simply a testimony to their own idiocy" may be a good writer, but he is dead wrong. A well-written fallacy is still a fallacy.

Anonymous said...


All I can say is a hearty congratulations! A job well done.


BarbS. said...

Bill Loehfelm,

You make the process sound sane.

Thanks so much for stopping in and stopping the madness.

Congrats, too! I'm looking forward to that second book.

Scott said...

I'd like to add my congratulations to Bill, as well. Any comments about the contest I'm sure do not mean to criticize your entering, your winning, or your accomplishments after.

You really don't want a list of what I would do to write for a living. Entering the ABNA contest would seem the essence of nobility in comparison to any one of them. ;^)

Word Ver: gothead n. 1. from goth'ead, which refers to any enthusiast participating in the "gothic" lifestyle. Often purposely mispronounced to reflect a derogatory view.

KareFree Kennels said...

I entered to learn how to pitch my novel...writing it is one thing (well, a million zillion things); pitching it is another.

Now I have a virtually impossible deadline (due to other commitments), but, Gee!, I wrote a novel, didn't I? Surely I can write a pitch.

As for Someone stealing your concept, that Someone still has to write the actual novel, while mine is finished, at least until an agent or editor advises me to improve it here and there...and there and there and there.

Anna said...

late late... but I did enter, more on a whim than anything...

now to other things until the middle of March...

Kat said...

I don't think I like the stipulations that go along with the grand prize- a non-negotiable 'as-is' boilerplate contract? Doesn't really sound like a prize to me.

I've heard that a lot of boilerplate contracts screw the writer. (That's why you need an agent!)

As for the contest, I'm sure the winning book will be good, but I do believe that generally a writer with a book good enough to be published shouldn't have to resort to self-pub.

Occasionally, you will find that rare book that never appealed to the agents, the editors or the publishers, but for some reason the public just devours it. It's an anomaly.

I think that's the goal of this contest: to find that rare gem hidden in the slush pile.

MzMannerz said...

Are the odds of winning a contest really that much greater than landing an agent for the same work? Seems six of one to me. Shrug.

Anonymous said...


They may not steal an entire concept, but there is the possibility of stealing an awesome line or interchanging a sub-plot with their own novel. We hear so much about having great openers, if you have one; do you put it out there for everyone to see before it's published?

Anonymous said...

Oh! I remember something. A friend of mine in the UK made the semi-finals and (naturally) asked a few people she knew whether they might read her entry and comment on it. Except that in order to review a contest entry, *you had to have purchased something from*. Which struck me as annoying (though I kind of see the point - it means someone can't make up 100 troll e-mail addresses and review the same book 100 times).

BarbS. said...

Anon 6:51 and Karefree,

If the work is out there, "there" has a date stamp which can help place the date of the original concept. So says my friend

I have reason to hope he's not blowing hot air!

And yes, I came here to read only, but I thought I'd snatch the wordver before somebody else seized it for its face value: MALLIGN, which I hoped not to do in my post... ;)

Anonymous said...

Barb S

Thanks, I am so leery. I had always heard that was the case, but an idea can be copied still and changed enough to look familiar to an agent and mess with your chances of being published w/o you ever knowing the reason.My worry, even with the law is by the time you figure it out, the damage will be done.

Captain Monkeypants said...

My two cents: I entered last year and was not happy at the process. However after a year of querying for no less then three different novels, receiving two requests for partials that were rejected within three days of submission (one can't help but believe they weren't even read) and emailed query rejections that happened 11 minutes after submission, I have to enter ABNA again. I'm entering ABNA again because I can't sit around bashing my head on the keyboard because this whole process is so hard, that it wears me down every time I get a rejection. I know it's an American Idol for books in a way but it gives us humble unpublished a chance to hope just a little. When we send out queries to agents who only want a letter and then instantly reject us, it's a little like auditioning for American Idol and being told you're not pretty enough even to sing for the judges and be given a fair shot. With Amazon's contest, we at least get our chance to sing, even for a short while. To me, that's something.

Anonymous said...

Art criticism is a worthless pursuit. Most critics aren't artists and, if their opinions differ from those of the larger audience, who cares what they think?

If your novel doesn't sell, no one's going to keep it in print because the Times book critic thought it was a breath of fresh air. If your book does sell no one's going to stop buying it because some guy at the Guardian found it to be derivative and unoriginal.

It's disgusting that they seem to have so much power in spite of the fact that all they're doing is writing down one person's opinion bout a book. I'll form my own, thanks.

ryan field said...

Captain Monkeypants said: "it's a little like auditioning for American Idol"

I always thought the query process was like that, too. You get a few minutes to sing, and if it's not perfect in every way...ah well.

Anonymous said...


I believe in freedom of speech also, but I fail to see the point in criticizing someone else's work and possibly damaging their career (not that it is likely to happen in this case). Let's hope that no-one does that to you. It is just mean. Last time I checked Stephen King wasn't a young adult.

raballard said...

It seems to me the King-Myers drudge match would be better sevred on pay-per-view.
My wife swears by King, my teenage daughter sweard by Myers. I am too much a gentleman to swear.

The subject is the Amazon Breaktrhough Novel Contest. I am affraid if either King or Myers entered we would all be toast.

Anonymous said...

For those who are wary of the "non-negotible" contrct, here's the fine print:

If Penguin notifies an entrant (excluding the Grand Prize winner) that it wishes to publish such entrant's work, entrant will negotiate exclusively with Penguin for a period of thirty (30) days on the terms and conditions of a publishing agreement. If at the end of that 30-day period, entrant and Penguin have not reached agreement, entrant will be free to offer the work to other publishers, provided that before entrant enters into an agreement with another publisher, entrant will afford Penguin the last right to publish the work on the same terms and conditions offered by any other publisher plus an advance against royalties ten percent (10%) greater. Penguin must communicate its decision to entrant within five (5) business days after written notice from entrant of the other publisher's terms and conditions, and if Penguin declines or fails to act within that period, entrant will not have any further obligation to Penguin and may publish the work with another publisher.

So, it might be better not to be the Grand Winner, but a runner-up!

jef said...

...all our dreams don't come true.

Anonymous said...

I'm completely new to the world of book publishing. I've yet to start the query process, but I have an agent who has asked for an exclusive read of my manuscript starting the first week of March. Even though I'm crazy excited about this opporuntiy, Wendy has never read a partial or even a single page of anything I've written. Basically, she has asked to read my MS based on a recommendation. So I sort of expect her to reject me. To be honest, I'd love to put off the query process as long as possible and a contest sounds like the perfect opportunity to avoid queries while still being somewhat productive.

My question is this: Is it unethical to enter a contest when you've agreed to a two-week exclusive that falls during the contest time frame?

Mira said...

Anon - yes, I think it would be.

Just my opinion, and I could be wrong, but I think you have to give the exclusive. Or you could hold off on giving it to the agent after the contest.


In other news, they still haven't opened the contest to people who haven't written a book.

You know, this exclusivity of the industry - where they only want to publish books that are actually written is a total travesty.

If I ever do write a book, I might write it about that.

raballard said...

Why don't you write a book Mira?

Bill Loehfelm said...

Anon 3:44 -

When we agreed to work together, my agent was not entitled to any proceeds from FRESH KILLS, neither the prize money nor any subsequent earnings. I did later bring the agency into that contract, to handle film rights, royalties, etc., but entirely of my own accord. We worked together for eight months before he made Dollar One from our relationship.

He asked me the same question when I interviewed him: "You've already got a contract, why do you want an agent?" My response was that I wanted to parlay winning the contest into a career and I thought getting an agent was a key step in making that happen. It has proved to be a wise move.

Mira said...

Bill - I'd to add my congratulations. That's an incredible accomplishment - to win a contest like that. Major kudos and congrats!

RayBallad, that's an idea. I could write a book. But then I'd have to give up this joke about how I'm not writing a book.

I'm not sure which would be better: to write a book, or keep pounding this joke into the ground until it screams for mercy. They both seem like such a valuable use of my time....I just don't know....


sorry, I've been in such a silly mood lately. The truth - I'm working on some writing projects, but I'm a new writer, so nothing's finished.

Thanks for asking, Ray.

Nathan Bransford said...

Thanks for weighing in, Bill!!

raballard said...

Mira, I too am new at the writing thing. I am however not new to the dreaming, talking to mystical people, in my mind.
I really tried to ignore the poeple I have created, but they are louder than me.

Mira said...

Yep. Sometimes I think I want to write to get those damn voices out of my head. Let them bug someone else for awhile. :-)

Good luck with your writing, Ra.

KareFree Kennels said...

Anyone know how to access "winning" pitches from last year's contest?


FibCarver said...

@Nixy Valentine -- "if my book is good enough to win that contest, it's good enough to get a good agent who will help me find the right publisher." Says it all for me!

My feeling is, the writers who participate in this kind of thing were Gladiators in a previous life. And to them I say, enjoy the battle!

KareFree Kennels said...

When you pitch an agent, you must disclose the ending...they want to know that you can structure a compelling story.

Does anyone know if the pitch required by the contest should disclose the ending?

Or, is it supposed to be more like a jacket blurb, where you don't disclose the ending?

I've read the contest rules, particularly the instructions for the pitch, but they don't specifically mention anything about disclosing the ending.



Wanda B. Ontheshelves said...

Re: "I believe in freedom of speech also, but I fail to see the point in criticizing someone else's work and possibly damaging their career (not that it is likely to happen in this case). Let's hope that no-one does that to you. It is just mean. Last time I checked Stephen King wasn't a young adult."

SK hasn't damaged anyone's career. Critics and/or other writers bashing you doesn't "damage your career." People bash other people all the time. It's just irrelevant, and plenty of artists/writers/musicians say they don't even bother to read their reviews after a point, as it is simply irrelevant.

I have gotten and continue to get plenty of criticism - if only I were so lucky as to merit SK's attention!

Wanda B. Ontheshelves said...

Re: "My question is this: Is it unethical to enter a contest when you've agreed to a two-week exclusive that falls during the contest time frame?"

Well, don't you agree upon entering the Amazon contest, to a certain contractual arrangement? Which would preclude an agent?

I dunno - I think if I had an agent with an exclusive, I would hold off on Amazon contest - simply because there are PLENTY of contests - but not so many agents offering you an exclusive!

Just my own (unagented) opinion, Wanda

Lorelei Armstrong said...

I bought last year's winner. The writing was great, but the story wasn't there. After 58 pages of repetition, flashback, and nothing happening, I gave up.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Bill, I thought it must be something like that, and cogratulations, great achievement, and good luck with your writing career!

Eric said...


I caught Fresh Kills when the ABNA was in the early stages and thought it was a very strong contender. Congrats on your win. Well done. Yours is the story that gives the rest of us aspiring mugs hope.

Anonymous said...

"Does anyone know if the pitch required by the contest should disclose the ending?"

It's not the same as a synopsis for an agent. If you read a particular area of the instructions, it tells you that your pitch and your book description will be visible to anyone on Amazon and to keep that audience in mind. I'm assuming that means, don't spill the beans about the ending.

LauraBruno said...

I decided to enter this year because of some wild synchronicities leading up to the contest:

It's a long shot, but hey, it would be GREAT publishing story. :)

Steffan Piper said...


I just wanted to add that having submitted work to you in the past, and receiving rejection, I can see the need for writers to find whatever avenue they can for their work. Getting an agent remains to be a difficult thing, regardless of how good your writing is or how fresh your ideas are. I submitted an older book of mine to you 'Yellow Fever', and then later 'Waiting for Andre'. One which I decided to self-publish, and the other which I have locked in a drawer.

The idea that the finalists would’ve received agenting regardless is a misnomer. Published writers often say that after years of going through the grinder of agent submission, they were only able to find success by being creative and finding a work-around. The majority of author biographies are filled with stories like this and I don’t think that this is a trend that will change anytime soon.

The ABNA is just one more process in the multitude of options that are now out there for aspiring writers, which there seems to be no shortage of these days (aspiring writers that is – not open avenues). With the economy tanking, more and more people will inevitably turn to the arts or alternate ideas for their own purposes, whether it be for revenue stream or for following their dreams. Even if ABNA is a long-shot – it’s better than no shot. It’s also much better than the slush-pile or the long line of different people that a manuscript gets pushed through when submitted and odds-on rejected. I urge anyone interested to submit.

As I recall, you were eager to read my manuscript and asked for it within an hour of sending the email. Kudos to you for your response time. However, I didn’t hear back from you after that, but I did hear back in an email from another person and then received the boiler-plate rejection from a third person a few months later with no explanation. The point of clarifying this is that some writers seem to think (judging from the posts I’ve read) that the traditional submission process is a sublime thing and without the level of perceived impropriety or lack of professionalism that they came away with from the Amazon contest. My point is that I thought I would’ve heard back directly from you as I submitted my manuscript to you, and possibly some suggestions Make sense? Rarely is something what it seems. But I definitely bear no grudge nor find fault. My experience with you is the common story for most.

I’ll echo a few of the posts that stated that they had success with self-publishing. I self-published my book and received more feedback than I ever had before, which was helpful. I also made a number of relationships that have been beneficial. Having my book available on Amazon, which has been read and well-received … I’m happy. With little to no advertising, my book has made the rounds and done well in terms of sales.

The journeyman writer may not receive a purse of rubies at the end of every journey, but will probably be better off in the long run for just taking it to begin with.

I didn’t submit to ABNA last year, but I have this year. I am not holding my breath on winning, but it would be nice to get some level of feedback, recognition or consideration. And honestly, other than fame and fortune, that’s the most a lot of us should be looking for.

All the best …

Steffan Piper

Nathan Bransford said...


If you didn't hear from me you should have followed up with me after a month. I almost always respond in two weeks, and if you never heard back either my response, say, ended up in your spam filter, or something went awry.

Steffan Piper said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
So What said...

Verrry interesting to read all these comments.
Bill - you have probably heard this a million times but congratulations!
Anyways, you could call me a troll or whatever they call it these days, but I do browse the ABNA forums, and I have to say that there are extremely nice people on there. Even if you don't win, you do get to make good friends.
What are the reasons I entered?
1. Why not?
2. If I didn't win, so what. It's not like I'm going to die. The contest is freaking free to enter, the public doesn't read your whole book, and I can still submit it to another publishing agency!
3. I want to see if I'm good enough to make it through the first rounds.

Also, this is ABNA 2009, not ABNA 2008. I didn't know about ABNA last year, so of course I didn't enter, but based on all your comments, last year seemed pretty disorganized. The reviews were awful. The process was confusing.
Oh, well.
We shouldn't be looking at the past, we should be looking at the future. When I entered my manuscript, the process was smooth and swift, no problems, no crash. Everything seemed organized.

Nixy - I fully agree with what you said. But also, if the book is good enough to win the competition, then WHY NOT ENTER?

Mira - not to sound rude, I respect that you haven't been able to finish a book, and that definitely makes you an author either way. BUT, there is a reason that publishing companies and ABNA ask to submit a complete manuscript, and that is because they want a guarantee that you will finish the book and not lose interest like so many of us authors do. What is a book without an ending? It does seem unfair, but it also seems logical.

Nathan - I hear you're interested in young adult fiction. What a coincidence my book is young adult fiction. So if Penguing doesn't like my book, look out for it.

Hope this didn't seem to long, just expressing my opinion.


dalecoz said...

I don't see a downside for a writer to entering this kind of contest if you approach it the right way. By definition ninety-five percent of the entries won't make it to the public comment round. If you go in expecting to win and walk away angry then yes, chances are it'll be a bad experience for you.

If you go into the contest with the idea that this is a chance to learn from fellow aspiring authors and make contacts, then you'll probably come away from the contest in better shape than you started.

If you get into the contest, (a) Don't obsess on winning because you almost certainly won't. (b)Understand that some people will advance with stories you won't think are as good as yours. That's inevitable. In the early rounds one reviewer who really doesn't get or like your story can knock it out of the contest. In the later rounds, going on will probably be determined more by what Penguin is looking for than by any objective measure of good writing--even if such a thing existed.

So, go in with those things in mind and there really is no downside.

dalecoz said...

One other thing about ABNA-type contests: They can give a writer a little taste of what publishers and agents have to face with the huge number of manuscripts they see. I was in a couple of the Gather contests and actually tried to go through the other excerpts and rate them as fairly as I could.

I probably read most or all of more than 400 chapter length excerpts and the first couple of pages of maybe that many more.

Based on that, (a) I'm not sure how anyone stays sane doing that day after day. (b) The old trick of reading the first paragraph or two and deciding whether to go on doesn't work as well as people in the industry seem to think it does. A page or two was usually enough to make a rational decision. A paragraph or two wasn't. (c)A lot of the chapters in those contest weren't awful. They just didn't have anything new to say and they didn't say anything old better than it had already been said. (d)There were stories in those contests that I would have loved to have seen the rest of. They had innovative plots, interesting characters and good writing mechanics. There weren't many of them--maybe one out of every hundred I looked at. The majority of the good stories were effectively invisible. They went nowhere in the contests.

It's frustrating in a way. There are good authors out there that the publishing industry will never find because it isn't cost-effective to look for them anymore. Contests like ABNA probably won't find them either.

New authors will be mostly the ones with the best pitches and the best networking efforts, and in most cases it'll take ten years of effort to break in. That last part is a problem for book publishing. How do you get people in their teens and early twenties reading fiction when most of that fiction is written by people old enough to be their parents or grandparents? Answer: You might not anyway given the competition from other media, but you certainly aren't when 'young' authors are authors in their forties.

Miss M said...


You say: Regardless of how I feel about the contest itself, I honestly don't put much stock in the results. Sorry! You can mention you were a semi-finalist, but I just haven't really been impressed with the correlation between Amazon semi-finalist status and quality of manuscript.

Okay, here's my puzzlement over this whole breaking-in thing. You, as an agent, want to see where I have some credibility as a writer--maybe I've published a short story, or come in third in a writing contest. Yet, you don't want to see this particular contest as evidence of any credibility I may have.

Could you please tell us what you recommend?

And one other question, when did this query letter become the end-all in getting the attention of an agent? I must have missed that when I was raising my kids these past 14 years. I slaved over my writing classes in school, won a few awards but was never taught the importance of this query letter. Your manuscript is supposed to speak for itself were the parting words of advice from all my writing instructors--some of them NY Times bestselling authors.

So please, fill me in.

Nathan Bransford said...

Miss M-

Eaaaaasy with the cynicism. First off, if you look at my recommendation on how to find an agent, the query is far from the be-all end all for finding an agent. There is also referrals and networking. If you don't want to take that path, yeah, you'll need to write a good query. No one is entitled to anything in this business.

Second, writing qualifications help, but they're not everything, and I'm perfectly willing to look at someone's work if they don't have a credit to their name.

All I'm saying about the contest is that it's something I take with a grain of salt. The fact is, it's easier, percentage-wise, to be a semi-finalist in this contest than to be one of the two or three out of 10,000 that an agent will take on in a year, and I look at the results accordingly.

Miss M said...


Forgive my cynicism, it's all part and parcel of raising a 14 year old.

I am currently trying the networking route and the first 100 pages of my book are sitting in an agent's office--keyword, sitting. When I first spoke to him, I asked him about the importance of the query letter. He dismissed it outright. He said you can either write or you can't (he'd let me know) and some people are very talented at writing queries but can't write anything else worth a damn. How do you feel about that observation?

Thanks again, I enjoy reading your blog. I'll try and curb my cynicism.

Miss M.

Anonymous said...

I'm so glad to hear from Bill. I would say he is the 'authority'on this contest. Seems to have worked out nicely for him. On top of that, there were others who were published.

Times are changing. I like the idea of letting readers take a peek at the slush pile. They are the ones that put out the coin that keep us all in business. It could be a threat though, to those that make a living on that slush pile.It kinda sorta takes some power away too. Just thinking.

Mark said...

"In the later rounds, going on will probably be determined more by what Penguin is looking for than by any objective measure of good writing--even if such a thing existed."

I'm an old fashioned guy. I like to think the two are the same.

Geoff Thorne said...

to answer the original question:

yes. i'm digging it. so far, so good.

and i wouldn't have known about it if not for this blog so thanks.

Anonymous said...

I think that all book and screenplay contests - when you cut to the core - are just scams, a way to generate business for sponsors. Only a few prizes are offered. So the chances of winning are less than slim. A writer is better off spending his or her valuable time writing, not rolling the dice, or hoping to win a writer's lottery.

Laraine Anne Barker said...

I personally don't like contests that ultimately rely on "votes" from the public. The winner will invariably be the person who can persuade the most people to vote for his or her book. Why can't Amazon stop being lazy and get proper judges to do the work for them?

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