No ABNA this year?

So I thought about it. And I’m still thinking about it, because this would be the entry for my fourth book, and the final book for the first arc. But honestly, I don’t think I want to do the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Awards this year. Whether or not I end up doing it is another matter.

On one hand, it’s fun. It’s an awesome contest for self-pubs and unpubs, and it’s a great way to get exposure. The prize is a contract with Penguin Publishing, complete with an advance, and the winner’s work will see the full-scale marketing push behind it that a publishing house like Penguin can offer. Seems great, right?

It is. So many self-pubs want a contract that inevitably, this looks like a good idea. And I will admit, a 15K advance – even though it’s pretty meager compared to what an advance used to be – will come in real handy to most of us struggling author types.

Thing is, I have some experience with that contest, and having entered it three times already, I’m hesitating about having a fourth go. The top thing that gets me about it, though, is that the the judging is skewed; the Amazon panel of reviewers who cull through the books in the second round – the first round is based purely on a 300-word synopsis, and the merit in it is whether or not that synopsis would grab an agent’s attention; the second round is the excerpt read-through – is…odd. Not unfair, no; it’s meant to be arbitrary, and it is. But that said, I have no idea under which criteria the panel is picked. I also have no idea how the excerpts are divvied out among them. But I do know this: many a good book had never made it past Round 2 in ABNA, and the reasons that they had not made it were ridiculous. In the CreateSpace forum, after the second round reviews are coming in, there is no shortage of authors with otherwise solid excerpts expressing their dismay at getting the boot over something so minor as a reviewer saying, “I don’t get it”, when, really, the plot has just the right hook. It involves some actual reading comprehension, but it’s there.

I got booted out of Round 2 and one reviewer of two told me that while sci-fi wasn’t their thing, they enjoyed it. The other one, though, told me not to have profanity in the text, and told me point blank that I shouldn’t try to be imitating Battlestar Galactica, which is a show I had never seen in my life. This was Book 1, which I’ve actually very purposefully sanitized. There was nothing four-letter in it. This made me ask, “did the person even, actually, I don’t know…read the story?” And you know, chances are they hadn’t, which in turn begets the question of, “Then why the hell are they judging a writing contest? That requires reading!

You may say, “Well, you can’t expect something less than perfect to make it anywhere!” – please. Let’s quit with the standards of absolute perfection; first of all, it doesn’t exist, and second of all, its entire perception is arbitrary. Let’s also not forget that some of the most popular books today are not only poorly edited, but poorly written. My friend Amanda is still trying to convince me to read and blog about Fifty Shades of Grey, which I obstinately refuse to do, having read the reviews and…okay, guilty…a Wikipedia synopsis. There is a lot of subpar fiction out there, and it all depends on what your par happens to be. If yours is grammar and spelling, then you’d likely be cheesed off by most of what comes out, regardless of publication medium. If yours is a good story, then you may want to consider compromising. You can’t always get what you want, say the Stones, but in writing, with the number of authors out there, you can likely end up with the story you need.

ABNA reviewers don’t consider that, and really, they get their fee either way. So they don’t have to. And that’s actually why I’m leery about it: not even the fact that the judgment is arbitrary, but because I feel that the judges don’t bother to give the excerpts their due diligence and actually read them. And if it’s because the bulk of the applicants are either self-pub or unpublished authors, then I’m more than a bit cheesed off. It’s the same ol’, “It’s shitty because it’s self-pub” and its less savory sister, the, “If it were good, it would’ve been published by now” surfacing back up again.

Again and again, ad nauseum: publication method is not indicative of quality.

I’ve read plenty of self-pub fiction and it varied in quality. 90% of the time, I came away satisfied with a great story that, in the cases of a series, left me wanting more. Same for trad-pub. And on both sides of the fence, there were books I regretted buying and killing time on. My personal deal-breaker is not lousy grammar or conventions. It’s when the plot is either lacking or weak, or if the errors are taking away from the story as an overall.

There’s 6 days left until submission begins for ABNA. So I don’t know. I might, just for the hell of it, but until then, I’m not going to think about it too much.

K.G.

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