ABNA – Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award

The Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award is a contest sponsored by Amazon in conjunction with Penguin USA each year to discover the next best-selling author. In two categories, General Fiction and Young Adult, it is open to 10,000 entrants, 5,000 in each category. There are several stages of elimination, which go from February until June.

Each applicant submits a pitch letter, an excerpt and the full manuscript. The judges read the pitch letters first and they pick the best of the lot. You have to pitch your novel, as if you were pitching an agent. I never get past this point, because I hate writing pitch letters, and I’m no good at it and it shows. After the pitch letters have all been read, they pick 2,000 entrants to continue.

Second, they read the excerpts and 500 quarter-finalists are selected. Third, the whole manuscript is then read and 100 semi-finalists are announced. At that point, industry professionals read these 100 manuscripts and select the top 3 finalists in each category. Readers can now read the excerpts and vote for their favorite.

I like to watch the progress of the contest, and visit the forums frequented by the authors who have entered and read the comments of those who get to stay in and those who are eliminated. I’d like to try this contest again, maybe in February 2012.

There are six finalists, three in General and three in Young Adult. I read my first one today, called East of Denver by Gregory Hill. His is the first I’ve read, but Wow! I hope the others can compare to this one, I loved it. It’s quick, it sets the hook, it’s funny, and it looks like a great read, although it is kind of a sad, hopeless story in parts. I doubt it will be the most uplifting of tales, but that’s okay.

It starts with the story of a cat, who didn’t live with the main character, but in the same vicinity. An independent, unnamed cat eventually done in by, the main character (also unnamed, at least in the section that I read) suspects are evil children with time on their hands. The cat succumbs and the main character takes the dead cat to his father’s farm to bury it.

Dad’s senile. This is a direct quote, after Dad says some funny things. The main character buries the cat, with his father’s help, and realizes that his dad can no longer live alone. He moves in with his dad.

The author reminded me of E. L. Doctorow, who wrote Ragtime, among others. Short choppy sentences that are complete thoughts in themselves. Interesting sentences that make you want to get to the next one. Here are the first few of the novel:

I was driving from Denver to the farm with a dead cat in the back seat of my car. She was a stray I used to feed off my back step. She slept outside. She walked in the rain. Once, after a blizzard, she spend a month trapped in the sewers where she survived by eating baby raccoons.

To me, that’s a pretty good hook sentence. A dead cat?

And I liked this too:

I didn’t mind cats but I hate cat-lovers. I loved this cat.

I know I’ll read this book when it becomes available. It’s funny and sad at the same time. It promises to be a winner, no matter if Mr. Hill wins the contest or not.

Next week, I’ll have at least one more entry to review. And I’ll keep you posted on who wins!

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