28 January 2010
Strictly speaking, it's less of a "novel writing competition", and more of a "novel written competition", given the timescales, but Amazon's new promotion is a fantastic opportunity, all the same. One lucky author is going to walk away with a Penguin book deal and an advance of $15,000 (over £9,000).
There are just two categories: general fiction and young adult fiction. Up to 5,000 novels will be accepted into each category. Eligible works are between 50,000 and 150,000 words. Both unpublished and self-published works can be submitted (although works under contract anywhere else are excluded, obviously). The closing date is 7 February 2010, but if you're serious about entering, you should do so as soon as possible. I think there's a good chance this competition will be oversubscribed.
With that many books to try to process, most of them will be entirely unread. Books will be evaluated first on the basis of a 300 word overview, and then in later rounds on the basis of an excerpt. The overview isn't a synopsis: it needs to sell the book's concept and themes, and so is more of a cover letter. Some might think it's unfair that only 300 of their 100,000 words are being read, but this is a microcosm of the entire publishing industry. It's no good having your best bits buried on page 37. Publishers Weekly will review 500 full manuscripts, and Penguin will read 100 of those.
Ultimately, Amazon customers will select the winning novel from a shortlist of six. This is a good way to ensure there is a market for the resulting novel (a bit like Pop Idol on the tellybox), but it does also tend to skew the results towards mainstream works. A romantic comedy is likely to win out over a political satire, purely on the basis of market demand. But the satire might have been the better book, and the better publishing decision if the publisher has ideals beyond market share.
As always with competitions like this, you need to check the small print extremely carefully. By entering this, you're effectively agreeing to Penguin's contract terms and royalty rates unseen, although I think you retain the right to walk away.
To find out more and start preparing your entry, visit the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award microsite.