The Writer’s Desk: Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award and You

Last year, some kindly soul on the AML-list posted information about the then-new Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award, which bestows a $15,000 contract and publication with Penquin to its winners. There are two categories: One in mainstream and one in YA. Entries may be either unpublished or self-published novels. Since I know many in the MoLit community are sitting on manuscripts that fit these descriptions, I thought I’d take some space here to share the experience had by a member of my writing group, LeRoy, who entered last year’s contest.

First, let me tell you that he did well, making it into the top 50–quite a feat when, rumor has it, they began with 5,000 entrants–so I deemed his experience worth listening to. While his entry didn’t pay off with fortune or its lesser friend, fame, he was rewarded with the glorious experience of having agents seek him out to discuss the possibility of representation. Now wouldn’t that be nice?

So I asked him what advice he would give to contestants. He mentioned the following six things:

1) The obvious: Make sure the end of your story is as well-edited as the beginning.

He explains that, until the finalist round of the contest, entries were judged solely on the first 50 pages, and his first 50 were tight, well-revised, and edited. The rest? Not so much. But because he learned of the contest late, he didn’t have time to give his manuscript the once-over it needed. One of the contest judges who read the entire manuscript teased him about making the second half as well-edited as the first.

2) LeRoy explained that, when he was told his manuscript was being eliminated, the contest representative indicated that it was mainly because of formatting problems, even though his manuscript was likely better than some that remained under consideration. LeRoy explains that he used a Word program that did not add the extra line between paragraphs. He says they convert what you send into the Kindle format (since entries are online), and not having that extra line was a problem. So if you submit, make sure you convert to the most recent Word program.

3) The first step in the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award is a wheedling down to 2,000 entries, or 1,000 in YA and 1,000 in Mainstream. This decision is based solely on the “pitch”. This pitch can be no more than 300 words that “sell” the story. Think back cover of a paperback. If the pitch is no good, the story does not get read. Period. And you miss the first cut. He advises that writers not skimp on time writing the pitch. Make sure it has a strong hook.

4) He warns that you should enter early, pointing out that “When the first 5,000 novels are entered . . . the program shuts down.” The webpage shows the entry window as being between January 24th and February 6th, 2011, but the Official Rules admit that they don’t accept after 5,000 entries. This means it’s entirely possible the real submission window is 24 hours. So get that manuscript in as quickly as you can.

5) A LOT of entries were thrown out because the rules were not followed. For instance, last year’s rules required that you could not have your name on any page, but many contestants left their name somewhere and their work was immediately dismissed. Some were eliminated because their book was not complete or because it did not meet the required 50,000 word count. He admits this year’s rules may be different in some detail, but the one rule that will not be different is simply: Follow the rules! So be sure to take a close look at the Official Rules before submitting.

6) The contest provides a bulletin board for people who entered. Read what others are saying and talking about. You may gain some needful insights that will help you, especially if you try again next year.

And trying again is exactly what LeRoy is doing. By entering, he received feedback from both judges and agents. He has polished his manuscript and is resubmitting. I wish him–and all of you–the best of luck! Polish up that pitch and those first 50 pages, at least, and see where it takes you.

Read about and enter the contest at:

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2 Responses to The Writer’s Desk: Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award and You

  1. Lisa Torcasso Downing says:

    Well, I’ve been made aware that some of the details in this are incorrect. My fault, not my friends. I direct you again to the official contest at the link above. Shrug. My apologies.

  2. Jonathan Langford says:


    Thanks for posting this. I don’t believe I’m eligible for the contest, but it was interesting reading about your friend’s. I don’t remember why I didn’t comment when you first posted this, but I remember being glad that you had done so.

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