For the novelist: Amazon contest a new route to publication

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The winner of the first Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award competition this year, Bill Loehfelm, received a contract for his novel Fresh Kills and a $25,000 advance. The book was printed by G.P. Putnam's Sons and has been widely praised. Now you, the budding novelist, have a chance to vie for similar success. Amazon has announced that it will repeat the contest, beginning in early February of 2009.

The route from finished manuscript to book on the shelf has become more difficult as the printing industry faces the same economic pressures as other businesses, and the Amazon contest, while a long, long shot, is worth a try. It costs nothing to enter. Authors upload their work (up to 10,000 will be accepted), from which the Amazon slush readers will choose 2,000 for the second round. From this group, expert recruiters from Amazon will pick the best 500.

Reviewers from Publisher's Weekly, the go-to magazine of the book industry, will cull this to 100, from which representatives of the company that will publish the winning manuscript, Penguin, will chose three finalists. Amazon customers, armed with reviews of the three novels by noted writers and editors, will vote for the Grand Prize Winner, who will receive 25 grand and a book contract.

Yes, this means your book has a 1-in-10,000 shot to win. But billions of dollars are spent every week by Americans on lottery tickets, where the odds are much longer. If you've tried to find an agent for your treasure, you might eventually get the idea that the odds on that route to publication aren't much better.

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