The Second Annual Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award (ABNA) Contest is in progress. The grand prize is a publishing contract with Penguin.
I didn't intend to participate – I don't have a novel inside me. But then an email arrived. “Dear Amazon Reviewer, You have been randomly selected ... to participate as an ABNA reviewer. As a contest reviewer, you will read and review 40 ... excerpts from submitting authors over a two-week period. As a reward for this special effort, those who complete the 40 reviews by March 8, 2009, will receive an Amazon Kindle.”
Hmm, I thought, maybe I've been too quick to pooh pooh that Secret of Attraction fad. Still unable to justify spending $359 on a Kindle ebook reader, I had somehow attracted a free Kindle.
And really, I thought, I am so perfectly suited for this assignment. I don't read more than the first few book chapters of most of the books I start. If I'm not enchanted after the first few chapters, I move on to another book. And I can opine about forty book excerpts, no problem. I have opinions to spare. Just ask Steve.
I emailed back immediately, volunteering to
get a free Kindle, participate as a reviewer. A few days later, another email arrived. “Congratulations, you are confirmed as an official reviewer of ABNA.”
The excerpts were available to read online, and they were from many genres: general literature, mystery, young adult, romance, thriller, fantasy. We reviewers were to rate the excerpts on a scale of 1 to 5 on the following criteria: Overall Strength of Excerpt, Prose/Style, Plot/Hook, and Originality of Idea. Then we had to write a review of up to 300 words.
I thought it would be fairly simple – read a few chapters, then quickly rate, and write a few short paragraphs about the excerpt. Repeat forty times.
It turned out to be harder than I expected. I read most of the excerpts twice, a few three times. I took notes. I wrote and rewrote reviews. I tried to be helpful without being patronizing or harsh. I found that being diplomatic over an extended period of time (two weeks) was exhausting.
My energy started to flag. Would I be able to complete all the reviews in time? Then another email arrived. “Dear Helen, Great news! Amazon Kindles have arrived, and we’re preparing to send them to reviewers who have completed their 40 reviews as part of the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award. We checked our records, and it appears as if you completed 32 reviews. As a reminder, you have until 11:59 pm PST Sunday, March 8th to complete your remaining reviews.”
Dangling the Kindle before my eyes was just the motivation I needed and Amazon knew it. (I also noticed that they were calling me by my first name now.)
In a burst of Kindle fever I finished the last eight entries. There were several excellent excerpts, stories that I wanted to read more of. Many others were quite good and just needed one more vigorous rewrite. It was an impressive bunch of unpublished fiction. The novels that make it to the next level will be reviewed by Publisher's Weekly and Penguin editors, and authors including Sue Grafton. I plan to read the winning novel. On my new Kindle.