Another Look at Amazon’s Breakthrough Novel Award

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After watching my writing pal enter the contest this month, I decided I wanted to know more about how successful some of the past winners had been at building careers. Also, I wanted to know what steps a writer could take to improve their odds of winning. As the historian of the Write On Sisters crew, I’m pretty good at collecting and assimilating large amounts of data. So yes, the creation of a spreadsheet dominated the research for this blog post.

Here are a few of my observations. Please be advised this is only my opinion, feel free to create your own spreadsheet and we can compare notes. I pulled my research from Amazon’s own product and author pages and by reading the ABNA community boards. Also by using Wikipedia and following up with Google searches of past finalists. I think my advice is sound, but again this is only my interpretation of the data. For the record, I’m talking here about finalists, and not much about winners. I worked under the assumption that winners would be taken care of by the terms of the contest, but the other finalists had to make their own way. Since there will always be more finalists and semifinalists than winners, I felt their experiences were more valuable to study.

Everyone should stop bemoaning the loss of the Penguin deals:
I know many people feel the big draw in past years was the traditional publishing contract. So, now that winners receive an Amazon contract as prize, some writers are disappointed, if not downright miffed. Sure, the connection to Penguin worked wonders for some, like a 2008 finalist who is still with them and has just released another book this January. That makes three for those counting. Me! But the connection did not prove a golden ticket into a publishing deal for many others. Several past finalists never received contracts from Penguin or any other publisher. Making the most of Amazon’s unique self-publishing infrastructure is exactly what many of those finalists ended up doing, even before the change.

This is Amazon’s baby now, writers need to love them, or go home:
Honestly, some people think of Amazon as a mindless bookstore-devouring leviathan that is killing the publishing industry. If you fall into this camp, it’s time to back away from the entry form. By entering this contest, you are in effect signing a contract to do business with Amazon. Some people even claim the terms are very unfavorable to the writers, others say they are exactly what you would get, if not a bit better than what you get from any other major publisher. Since I’ve never read a contract, I can’t comment. However, I wonder if you have no respect for Amazon, or for their business model, how happy are you going to be handing over your publishing dreams to them if you win? Or being forever linked to Amazon and their contest even if you’re only a finalist? Also, if somewhere out there on the web there are snide, nasty Amazon bashing comments attributed to you, do you really want that coming out and humiliating you and your new publisher during what should be one of the happiest times of your life? If you really don’t want to put your book out through Amazon, then spend that same energy querying agents.

Still ready to enter? Good for you! This seems like a really foolish thing to have to say but…

Finish a quality, well edited novel first:
Sure if you win, you will have more time for fine tuning, changing titles, and editing before it’s released, but you should still consider this a job interview process from day one. The pitch is your résumé and first impression. On the merits of your résumé, you’re asking for an interview, (a reading) because you want a huge, worldwide publishing empire to give you a job that pays $50,000 dollars. However, more than that, you want them to help launch your whole career as a writer. That’s a big request and a gamble on their part, so always put your best foot forward, and act professionally. Every page you send is your calling card; make sure they are all crisp and neat.

Follow the directions to the letter:
Just this once “the odds are ever in your favor.” That’s right you heard me, sure there will be only 5 winners out of 10,000 entries, but trust me some really great books will be thrown out on rule violations. Make sure it’s other people’s mistakes driving the odds down and not your own. Never willfully bend the rules, do not fudge the word count, not even by one word. Your goal is to make sure you don’t give anyone a reason to reject your entry. If you do the planning Jenn described, you will already give yourself a better than 5 in 10,000 shot at winning. At least a few hundred of these entries are going to be hasty night-before efforts, dotted with typos and lacking the polish. Others plot-less drivel, and/or thinly disguised carbon copies of some popular book. It’s the plus side of entering a contest where the first gatekeeper is a date stamp.

Once you’ve entered, quickly do these two things to make the most of your potential moment in the spotlight.

Prepare to market your book:
Just because you made it through to the semifinals, or even into the finals, you’re not going to shine unless you take steps insure your success. That means marketing. You should start planning for this opportunity today, otherwise you’re not going to have the right tools in place when you want to promote your contest winnings. Any related news about your journey is worthy of some PR buzz, but you will need a fan base to buzz, tweet or send those posts. It’s amazing to me how many past finalists are not marketing their books, I found some that didn’t even have an Amazon author page up. You can’t expect any book to do well if you don’t promote it. Caryn wrote a great post on platform building, so no excuses. Register some domain names, and get going.

Write the next book:
If you look at many of the most successful finalists, they already have two or more books out. Some had books out before they entered the contest, some even had an indie following for the book they entered into the contest. Others have been busy since the contest started growing a following. Even the 2013 winner has a sequel in the works, and is already marketing with a passion for her series, which has of course a website and a catchy name. That folks, is how to launch a writing career. I’ve noticed a few finalists seemed to have lost interest in writing since the contest, their blog entries are in some cases three or four years old, and twitter feeds show long-term inactivity. Becoming a finalist means you have merits worth cultivating, maybe the first book didn’t set the world on fire, but perhaps the next one will. How will you ever know if you give up after one try? So get busy and write that sequel, prequel or companion book. Better yet, launch into a completely new world with fresh characters to excite you and get your hands moving. Fans have short memories; make sure you have new products coming out to help keep that fragile thing called reader interest fueled.

Last of all….

Don’t expect a miracle, or universal acclaim:
Even if you wrote a truly amazing book, a book that will change the world of literature forever, someone will hate it. Maybe a whole bunch of someones will hate it. As Jenn pointed out, the elements of chance and timing are also at play with every book’s soar to fantastic heights of fame or humiliating crash-landing into the .99 bin.

Good luck to all the contestants! Let us know how you do, because we Sisters are rooting for you to soar.

Up Next from Robin…. The 11 Emotional Stages of Writing a Novel: It’s just like restoring a car

Author: Robin Rivera

Robin trained as a professional historian and worked as a museum curator, an educator and historical consultant. She writes dark young adult fiction, with diverse characters. She's currently querying a novel, and working on two new manuscripts that started off as NaNoWriMo projects. You can follow her on Facebook(https://www.facebook.com/robin.rivera.90813) or on Twitter @robinrwrites. However, Pinterest (https://www.pinterest.com/RRWrites/) is where her inner magpie is happiest of all.

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