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The Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award Competition

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The Amazon Breakthrough Award contest.

The Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award Competition, or ABNA, is annual competion run by Amazon. It is open to previously un-published authors, and this year for the first time it was also open to self published authors. The winner of the contest is awarded a contract with a major publishing house and a $15,000 advance.

In Brief the competition is run by first submitting your manuscript to Amazon in one of two categories, general fiction or young adult fiction. The first hurdle to be overcome is the initial entry, you have tosubmit a 300 word pitchof your work. Along withthis you also have to submit an excerptof up to the first ten pages, not to exceed 5000 words. And then you also have to submit your full manuscript. There viewers first sift through the thousands of entries in each category on the basis of the pitch alone, narrowing the field down to 1000 in each group. After the field has been thinned, each and every excerpt is reviewed by professional reviewers,who decide which of the contestants will be among the lucky 250 (250 in each group)to go though to the next round. The next round is where the works are submitted and reviewed by Publishers weekly, as well as online where by amazon customers can download and rate and review the works as well. After publishers weekly has narrowed the field down even more to 50 in each category they are reveiwed by editors from the penquin publishing company who decide who the final three in each group will be. The final six entrants are then voted on by amazon cutomers, whose votes decide the final winner in the contest.

This year I entered the contest in the young adult fiction category, with my novel 'Tanglewood Forest'. A relative also entered thier novel 'Bear Signs', in the general fiction category.

Along with my husband I sat up until midnight on the 24th January eagerly awaiting the minute past time so we could start submitting my work. Obviously we weren't alone in this as it actually took several frustrating hours too upload all the material required(The pitch, the excerpt and the manuscript along with relevant material about the author. That was the easy part! Now we just had to wait until the 23rd of February to see if the agonising hours spent working on the pitch had been successful.

The 23rd arrived and I was at the keyboard before the birds had even begun to sing, checking out the ABNA contest site for the first round of results. The hours I had to wait before the results were published seemed like an age compared to the days that had gone before between submission and this day. They certainly kept everyone hanging on and it was nearly 9pm that night before the lucky contestants were announced.

Imagine my delight at seeing my name and title on the list of entrants going through to the next round! I jumped out of the chair and did a little dance around the office, my face beaming as i realised out of a field of 5000, i had succesfully negotiated the first hurdle! This joy was shortlived though, as try as i might i could not find my relatives name, J.F Roach and 'BEAR SIGN'S' on the list and had to be the one to call with the bad news. It was like a firehose at a firework party!

Now came the wait for the next round results. Another month of agonising. Time was passed going about routine daily tasks. Like house work. Checking the ABNA Site. Laundry. ANd checking the ABNA SIte. No, but seriously, I didnt spend the entire time between glued to the ABNA site, although I will admit to spending sometime reading, and contributing to the blogs and comments columns. I would like to thank in particular the following people, Jonathan Spectre, Vivian Davenport, Lisa Mclellan, Megan Bostic, Bill Hirsh and last but not least for his picky picky pickiness, Jeff Fielder, who always managed to find fault with my grammar, although in the nicest way possible. Your a funny guy Jeff. I wish you all, allthe best in the contest those of you still in with a chance, theres an awfull lot of creative talent being dropped by the wayside.

Eventually the day of reckoning arrived. The criteria for this round was that every contestants excerpt, of between 3 - 5000 words,would be read and judged by two professional reviewers on such points as prose, story line, creativity and originality.

As you can guess from my comments about the pickiness on the message boards, grammar has never beenmy forte,although I did do the best I could with the help of spell and grammar check on my PC.

I wasn't succesful in the second round of the contest. The first review i read was actually very constructive and inspiring, the second was nothing but out and out destruction of nothing that had been mentioned in what the judges would be looking for! A stream of critisism about everything but what the reviewers were supposed to be looking for.

If I had submitted a work that wasn't original or creative i might not be sounding like some witch with an axe to grind, but to be condemned for an occasional mispelled word or badly placed comma was a bit hard to swallow. After all,isn't that what editors are for? Technical ability can be learn't. Creativity can't.

Obviously after finding that i had not been succesful I went to the discussion forums to let off a little steam and cry in my beer with all the other unsuccesful entrants. Several people had been the object of what can be nothing short of critical assisnation. One poor author, Robert Sier,was even told that his work wasnt original and that he had copied a popular SciFi story that has just recently hit the big screen. And as promised here are that particular authors words on his review:-

"When I didn’t make the cut, I was disappointed but looked forward to the reviews that I was going to get.

They showed up on April 1st, and were almost too ridiculous to be believed. The first tried to be helpful, then ended by accusing me of plagiarizing Avatar - in a book that I finished almost a year before Avatar came out. Worse, the accusation only proved how little the reviewer understood what was going on; there is no similarity between Avatar and my book.

The second review has nothing to learn at all, except that some people hate science fiction. Literally, the second reviewer declared that he didn't bother to read once he realized what genre he was dealing with. I think the first reader actually tried, but lacked the background to understand the writing. In that sense, most of his criticism was well-meaning, except for the accusation of plagiarism. I suspect that he didn’t know how serious an accusation that was."

Robert remains positive and his talent will someday be discovered. Wishing you best!

On a final note I would like to share my own reviews and if possible like to accept feedback from anyone reading this article. So here are the expert opinions of the reviewers who read my excerpt from Tanglewood Forest.

ABNA Expert Reviewer

What is the strongest aspect of this excerpt?

The strongest aspect of this excerpt is how it maintains tension. The author did a fairly good job of keeping the reader worried about the protagonists.

What aspect needs the most work?

The aspect of the excerpt that needs the most work is the author’s technical writing ability:

- There are a lot of unnecessary quotation marks around words, a lot of unnecessarily capitalized words, and many unnecessary exclamation marks. There’s also a sever misuse of possessives. There are also a couple of spelling problems: “TV” is abbreviated as “T.V” and, in one case, “too” is used for “to.”

- The transitions between the children’s viewpoints and the adults’ are sudden and done with no structural hint.

- The descriptive prose is overdone. Yes, things should be described. But, while children are lost in the woods and a search is ongoing, describing the leaves on the trees, the fur on an owl, the shortness of a ranger’s pant legs, etc., just gets in the way of the plot. Those kinds of descriptions should be eased into the work at more appropriate spots.

In addition, the protagonists appear to be 13 and 11 years old. That’s not a Young Adult genre (as categorized).

What is your overall opinion of this excerpt?

Overall, I found this excerpt to be pretty bad. The author obviously has a talent for maintaining tension in a story. But, the technical problems with the writing negate that. The problems were so chronic that I lost track of the story and was forced into a focus on the text.

ABNA Expert Reviewer

What is the strongest aspect of this excerpt?

The smooth flow of the writing. There is an early sense of danger exhibited by the searchers, which encourages the reader to wonder what’s coming next.

What aspect needs the most work?

The boys are lost. Why do they show no fear? There should be at least some concern, both about animals and about getting home. After all, there was another boy lost only a few weeks ago.

There could be smoother transitions between tho segments with the searchers vs. those with the boys.

What is your overall opinion of this excerpt?

Very well written. Searching for something lost is not new, including lost children. However, the fantasy elements strengthen the story. Readers will want to know what’s next – obviously something to intrigue the boys – and the reader.

And in conclusion below is a copy of the pitch that got my novel through the first round of the contest:-

Have you ever felt a shudder from the presence of something unseen? Have you ever looked over your shoulder while walking alone in the woods?

Allen and Joseph wander off in just such a forest. The story opens in a search for two missing boys. The local’s fear two more victims will be claimed by the “Triangle”; an area known for the bizarre and mysterious occurrences. After trekking deeper and deeper into the dense forest, their hopes of returning become slimmer.

They happen upon a remote cottage and are over come with excitement that their dilemma is at an end. They are warmly welcomed by three matronly sisters, who ensure their comfort and safety for the night. Will they? Not all is as it seems. Tanglewood forest shows us the reason why we put our heads under the covers as children as fairytale elements and suspense are entwined with horror and humor.

This tale will appeal to the younger reader and will feed their appetite for the undiscovered, the thrills and the triumphs while sitting comfortably on their couch. It will take their spirit of adventure as far as the pages will take them and beyond.

Older children and teens will revel as flashbacks from childhood resurfaces. They will tremble at the darker elements they encounter with wiser, more sinister eyes.

After all, in fantasy and fiction ends triumphantly. Are there no exceptions?

3 comments

deepblue
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Posted on May 23, 2010
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Posted on May 8, 2010
Megan Sheldon
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Posted on May 7, 2010