Amazon and Penguin Group USA announced this morning that from now until February 8th they’re accepting submissions for their second annual Breakthrough Novel contest. Like last year’s champion, a Brooklyn-born fellow named Bill Loehfelm who wrote a thriller called Fresh Kills, the winner of this year’s contest will receive a $25,000 book deal from Penguin.
To reach that mantle, you must get past several juries, starting with the chorus of Amazon’s Expert Reviewers and ending, American Idol-style, with the folks watching at home. In between, the submissions will be judged by Publishers Weekly reviewers, editors from Penguin, and a panel of "publishing industry professionals" which this year includes Penguin authors Sue Grafton and Sue Monk Kidd, as well as literary agent Barney Karpfinger and Penguin Press editor-in-chief Eamon Dolan. The whole thing will end on May 22.
For an "insider’s look" at how Amazon’s 2008 contest worked and felt, read "Reality Publishing" by Darryl Lorenzo Wellington in the first issue of n+1‘s new online book review. Mr. Wellington, a member of the National Book Critics Circle, was responsible for reviewing submissions during an early stage of last year’s contest, and was left with a rather sour taste in his mouth. As he puts it near the end of his piece:
The contest was intended for writers at the bottom of the literary food chain and cynically directed at the section of the public most susceptible to the culture of hype. Remember the pagan ethos of the reality show world: Reality contests reproduce "reality" by intentionally making the contests less than fair. The final round in which the public demonstrates its critical acumen (which the contest has done nothing to sharpen) by voting amounts to a sarcastic egalitarian sham. American Idol is watched by millions of viewers. The Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award will never attract millions of readers, nor justify the fun and games by popularizing literacy, nor resolve the issue of a savvy contestant racking up dubious votes.
Did we say already that the deadline for submissions is February 8th? Because, it is. Now get typing.