I recently entered an American writing contest called the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Competition. In short, it took the first 5000 eligible entries, gave the first 5000 words of each of those (which hadn’t been disqualified for contravening pedantic rules about pagination, margins, spacings, page breaks, word limits etc) to (unpaid) Amazon top reviewers and Amazon Editors to whittle down to a maximum of 1000. Those entries go to Publishers Weekly for a review of the full manuscripts, and then voting is open to the public from Jan 15, 2008 (the public sees an excerpt plus all reviews on a book page set up on Amazon). Penguin USA reviews the reviews and votes (not the submissions), and chooses the top ten between March 3 and March 31. Amazon customers then have one vote to choose the winning novel & an expert panel from the writing industry provides “insight and feedback” on the 10 finalists’ submissions while Amazon customers vote. The winner is published by Penguin USA with a $25,000 advance, and promotion from Penguin and Amazon, along with a suite of products from Hewlett Packard.
Is this competition being followed at all in Australia by the publishing industry? Is it just an experimental business strategy, or a genuine writing competition? Or both? Is it the way of the future?
I didn't even know about this competition so my answer to your first question would be 'no'. And to answer the others, I'd say it's a combination of business strategy and genuine writing competition, as well as an opportunity for NaNoWriMo writers to do something with their new manuscripts. I doubt it's the entire way of the future - the amount of resources needed to pull it off is extraordinary, so I can't even imagine that they'll do it every year - but it's good customer- and brand-building for both Amazon and Penguin (we help unpublished writers!). All publishers want to get their hands on great new talent, but this is a laborious way to go about it considering that they'll probably find it hard to find 1000 good manuscripts out of 5000. As a guide, I request full manuscripts from no more than 5% of the people who send submissions to the agency; they're hoping for a 20% strike rate.