Budding fiction authors: Take a shot at Amazon's first book contract contest

Do you have a novel sitting around just waiting for the right publisher? If so you might want to take a shot at getting your first big break by entering Amazon's second annual Breakthrough Novel Award Contest. You likely won't have time to write one and then enter because all entries must be submitted between Feb. 2 and Feb. 8. Only the first 10,000 submissions will be considered, so get your entries in as early as you can.

Last year's winner was a New Orleans bartender
, Bill Loehfelm, author of Fresh Kills, a noir mystery about lower-middle-class life in Staten Island. Submissions came from 18 countries and every U.S. state. More than 30,000 Amazon.com customers downloaded excerpts of the submitted novels.

You're probably wondering, as I was, how can a team of judges read 10,000 book submissions and make a decision. Well actually they won't be doing that. The most important thing you can write between today and the day you submit your book is a 300-word pitch letter. The 10,000 entries will be narrowed down to 2,000 based on that pitch letter, which should include:

* A short summary of your plot
* A discussion of your novel's strengths
* Your plot development
* Character development
* Why your idea is original
* Your writing style and prose

Amazon recommends that you, "Take time to study your market and make sure your pitch letter demonstrates that you understand how your book fits within this market and how it will identify with your audience." This pitch must clearly tell the judges about your book and why readers will want to read it.

Amazon editors will read these pitch statements and narrow the field to 2,000 entries on or about March 16. Then Amazon editors and Amazon Vine Reviewers will read 3,000 to 5,000 word excerpts from the remaining entries and rank them. Amazon Vine Reviewers are a select group of Amazon customers who post opinions about new and pre-release items to help their fellow customers make educated purchase decisions. The number of entries will then be culled to 500 and announced on or about April 15.

Publishers Weekly will then read the 500 entries'(Quarter Finalists) full manuscripts and rank them based on originality of idea, plot, prose/writing style, character development and overall strength. On or about April 15th Penguin editors will review these rankings and pick the 100 Semi-Finalists, who will be announced on the main contest page. Penguin Editors will read each semi-finalist entry and narrow the field to three Finalists on or about May 15.

Amazon customers will get to read excerpts from the three novels of the three Finalists and vote. The winner will be announced on May 22. The winner will be offered a publishing contact by Penguin with a $25,000 advance against future royalties.

You will keep your rights to the novel if you enter the contest, but if you are selected as a Quarter-Finalist or a Semi-Finalist you must give Penguin first right of refusal on any publishing contract until you are eliminated from the contest. So if you're working on deals for that novel, be careful.

Lita Epstein has written more than 25 books including "Working After Retirement for Dummies" and "Surviving a Layoff."

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