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Adventures in Writing, Reading & Book Culture

The Writing Life: Award Competitions

Award competitions for writers is a bit of a mug’s game. With thousands of entrants and, ninety-nine percent of the time, a submission fee (fucking ouch!), the whole process seems more like an award organization’s money-making scheme than the celebration of good books.

Naturally, the famous book award names — Pulitzer, PEN/Faulkner, NBCC, Nat’l Book Award — are loaded with prestige for those authors and their books, as winners and even when they get shortlisted. The Pulitzer Prize is a mere $50 to enter (unlike the $100+ fee for NBA or the NBCC’s presumption that you’ll send one copy of your book to each of the 20+ judges), and their guidelines are easily navigable.

I took the plunge recently and sent my upcoming novel, “What Beauty,” into the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award (free entry!). Some 2,800+ “general fiction” writers sent in their novels. I made it through the first cut: 1,000. And today I made it into the quarter finals: 1 of 250 authors. With such interesting titles as  “Naked Mommy,” “This is Squalorville,” “Black Apple” and “SYZYGY” there seems some good competition out there (at least, I could write a good story from each of those titles as my starting point).

But the competition is not judged on title alone. The cut-down for the quarter-finals was made by an elite corp of Amazon Reviewers. The semi-finals shall be judged by reviewers/editors from Publishers Weekly. The finalists shall be judged by Penguin Books’ editors.

I had thought I could make the first cut; this was a mere “pitch” done in 300 words. I thought, too, that I’d make it into the quarter finals: my excerpt is as strong a 5,000-word story out there on any bookshelf in the English-speaking world. This next cut, from 250 to 50, is going to be tougher, but only because I have no idea what prejudices or proclivities lie in the PW reviewers. Are they genre-ists who love a good teenage-vampire book? If so, I’m fucked. Are they detective buffs who are always on the lookout for the next … whomever? Fucked again. But if my readers are used to finding strong characters in compelling scenes, then come April 25 I’ll be back here writing about the future.

Come to think of it, I’m always writing about the future, in some way or another.

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