Earlier this week, Amazon announced the details for its annual writing contest, the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award 2014. You can find those details, as well as a rather active discussion board, here. I took part in the ABNA contest last year, and made it through to the quarter-finals in the category for science-fiction/fantasy/horror. It was a terrific achievement, one I had not expected from my sci-fi novel, CONVERGENCE, and I was fully expecting to get shutout during the pitch round. I spent the next few months eagerly awaiting the announcement of which writers were proceeding, never expecting to find my name on the list. Each time I did, though, it was with incredible joy. There was even one heart-stopping moment when I thought I was finished entirely after Amazon flubbed the results and published their list of advancing entries for the mystery/thriller category to both M/T and sci-fi. Thankfully they sorted it out reasonably soon and, again, I was surprised and wowed to be included with those moving ahead once more.
The contest opened with 10,000 entries, spread across five genre categories. By the time the quarter-finals came around, 9,500 of those had been eliminated, with the remaining 500 spread evenly across the five categories. I received a glowing review from Publisher's Weekly, as well as terrific feedback from the ABNA Expert Reviewers. Unfortunately, I did not make the final culling of the top 25 to move into the semi-finals. Still, I'd like to think I beat the odds with my book going as far as it did. Outlasting 9,500 other writers in a no-holds-barred, teeth-rattling, bloody fight to the finish is nothing to sneeze at.
The four months that CONVERGENCE survived was an incredible validation and a remarkable achievement. The positive feedback from both PW and Amazon, as well as a five-star review of the posted excerpt, was reassuring and incredibly bolstering. I had a severe case of writers-ego (not the good kind, fyi...), and I was not entirely convinced that the book was up to snuff (I've since been working to correct this and am much happier with my now-close-to-final draft), but making it as far as I did showed me that there is definitely a potential audience for this book. It gave me the determination to move forward, and provided me with a much-needed push to seek out even more feedback and improve my craft and make the novel better. It not only strengthened me as an author, but it helped strengthen my work, as well as my confidence in that work. Much of the last year, thanks to ABNA, as well as the responses I've received from other readers and editors, has been spent working hard on finalizing CONVERGENCE for release. I am hoping to share details on my next steps soon, so stayed tuned!
If I did have any complaint about ABNA, it's with the cross-pollinating of genres in the sci-fi/fantasy/horror category. Lumping sci-fi, fantasy, and horror into a single category is stacking the deck a bit too high for my tastes. I can understand the grouping of sci-fi and fantasy, but I've often felt that horror gets shafted by being lumped in with other genres that it may not necessarily be a part of. It seems, to me anyway, so consider this to be entirely anecdotal and biased observation, that the horror genre is often, if not entirely out-right then at least slightly, stigmatized when viewed on its own (it's not a horror book, it's a SCARY MYSTERY/THRILLER! WITH DEMONS! BUT THERE'S A DETECTIVE! is one that seems to come up a bit). It's a trend I first noticed in bookstores, and seems to have carried over into the online realm, as well. As a kid, I distinctly remember Borders having a Horror genre (back in the days when Borders still existed), and then one day in the recent-past it no longer did. It was a bit of a tragedy for me since, in those pre-Internet days, that was how I first really learned about the early works of Dean Koontz and Stephen King. Finding horror novels at a physical Barnes & Noble store can be daunting with many of the well-known authors in this field being categorized under general fiction. Amazon doesn't even have a horror category in their Books and Kindle departments, and it seems to be one of the few genres that are entirely absent from an otherwise rather comprehensive listing. To their credit, Barnes & Noble does list horror when browsing books by subject. While my own preference would be to have horror on its own in this contest, perhaps there just wouldn't be enough entries to sustain the category across the time-span of the competition, particularly if this is viewed by booksellers as a genre already unworthy of its own category from a retailer perspective. And since Amazon has been doing this contest for a few years now, no doubt they have more reliable evidence to weigh their decision upon than my mere, rather-unsubstantiated, preference. To further add fuel to the fire, the sci-fi/fantasy/horror category in 2013 was won by a horror novel - J. Lincoln Fenn's POE.
Really though, I have nothing but praise for the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award contest, and if you're a writer with a book in your slush pile, go ahead and enter. The results may surprise you! I heartily encourage all to participate, providing that your manuscript is, in fact, finished and ready to go, and in compliance with Amazon's stated rules. The contest opens February 16 and runs until March 2, or until the maximum of 10,000 entries is reached.
If you're planning on entering, or have taken part in year's past, drop a line and let's hear your story!