Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Why I'm Not Entering Amazon's Breakthrough Novel Contest

Today, I got two email messages about the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Contest. One was from Amazon/Createspace, reminding me that today is the beginning of the entry period. The other was from an author friend, who told me she will be "furious" at me if I don't enter.

I hope she won't stay mad.

Honestly, I don't think there is any point. That's not to say that I don't think my work is good enough to be in a contest. But I've come to some conclusions about the nature of my manuscript and the nature of the market as perceived by the publishing world.

I recently read a blog post by the president of a literary agency who said the way to stand out as a novelist is to "have a huge IDEA." He went on to say, "As an agent, I see lots of good stories. What I really like to see are the gigantic, out-of-the-box stories that will grab me and take me for a ride." I also read an article in a marketing newsletter I subscribe to (for my day job) that had five tips to sell something. Two of the tips were "It must have mass appeal," and "It must offer instant gratification."

What I've written doesn't fit any of those criteria. It is a relatively small-scale, intimate story about commonplace events and ordinary people, a story that is more likely to appeal to a small, rather specific market segment. It's a good story, but it's not a "huge idea," or a "gigantic, out-of-the-box" story -- and I'm fine with that. The people who would enjoy my story may be a niche audience, but they still deserve stories they enjoy.

I guess I would say that because I'm part of that niche. I just really have no interest whatsoever in reading books written by celebrities or pseudo-celebrities, or books about vampires or other incarnations of darkness, or books about murders or sex crimes or psychologically unstable people from dysfunctional families. I read the first chapter of The Lovely Bones and decided I just couldn't do any more. There's enough misery and perversion in the news; I don't want to have to deal with it in my fictional landscape, too. I realize that apparently puts me in the minority, since the books on the bestseller lists are just not my type. I'm not the customer the big publishing houses are producing books for. I don't care - as long as I can continue to find books in my niche that I can enjoy. That's getting hard, though, and I fear it may get harder.

My point is, the Amazon contest is looking for that next "huge idea" - or at least, a close approximation of it. An intimate, small-scale, historical novel is not going to get anything more than a cursory glance at the "pitch." (Even that terminology sort of gives me the shivers - it sounds like advertising or a pilot for a TV show.) At one point, I probably would have been willing to try, but not today. My protest is not going to bring the Amazon contest to its knees - there are plenty of people who will put in their manuscripts, hoping it will grab someone and take them for a ride. But it won't be me. I'm going to pursue my niche.

1 comment:

Nan Hawthorne, Shield-wall Books said...
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