The best thing to happen to recent University of Memphis MFA graduate Courtney Miller Santo was her failure to win the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Contest. Santo, whose first published short story appeared in the Spring/Summer 2011 edition of Irreantum, learned about the ABNA through her associations with the AML and entered her MFA thesis, a novel titled Roots of the Olive Tree. As she made the first cut from 5000 down to 1000, the second cut to 250, and then became one of the 50 semi-finalists, it began to seem possible that maybe, just maybe, she had a real shot at winning the contest, scoring a publishing contract and $15,000. Fortunately, that dream did not come to fruition. She “lost” when the top 50 was cut to the top three.
But a loss in the ABNA, which accepts novel manuscripts in both YA and fiction categories, can prove quite lucrative. The ABNA puts the top 50 manuscripts online, where registered voters can read them. This is where agent Alexander Machinist found Santo’s manuscript. Santo signed on with Machinist, and, before Santo could catch her breath, Machinist had Roots of the Olive Tree sold to Carrie Feron at William Morrow, plus the rights to Santo’s next book. Although it is crass to talk about money, the deal brings Santo more than most debut novelists receive, and certainly more than taking First Place in ABNA would’ve garnered her.
According to Publisher’s Weekly, Santo’s novel “follows an inter-generational group of women who live on an olive grove and whose bonds, and secrets, are exposed when a geneticist arrives to study the key to their longevity. The PW announcement can be read at http://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/book-news/deals/article/48027-deals-week-of-7-15-11.html
The congratulations of the entire Association for Mormon Letters is extended to Courtney Miller Santo. Remember, we loved you first. Now, knock ‘em dead.