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Via Publishers Lunch: Amazon.com and Penguin Group will sponsor a second Breakthrough Novel Award in 2009. (Hewlett-Packard, a co-sponsor of the previous award, will not return.) Here's the announcement on the Penguin website.
Once again, the winner will be published by Penguin, with an advance of $25,000, as long as he or she is willing to sign a non-negotiable publishing contract within 7 days of receiving notification of his/her win. Finalists receive an expense-paid trip to Seattle for the awards ceremony, and semi-finalists receive a review from PW (all prizes are described here). As before, only Amazon customers will be allowed to post reviews of contestants' entries.
There are some procedural changes, presumably as a result of issues encountered during last year's contest. Up to 10,000 entries will be allowed (double last year's 5,000), with 2,000 of these selected by "expert reviewers from Amazon" based on their pitch statements (a 300-word summary of the book--kind of like a query letter on steroids). 500 will be chosen as quarter-finalists by "Amazon Editors and Amazon Vine Reviewers" based on a review of 3,000-5,000 word excerpts (last year, the contest went directly to semi-finals, with 1,000 semi-finalists chosen). The quarter-finalists' excerpts will be displayed on Amazon for review and comment, and reviewed by PW (half the number of reviews PW provided last year).
Penguin editors will then winnow the quarter-finalists down to 100 semi-finalists, of which 3 will be selected as finalists (last year, there were 10 finalists). Finalists will receive detailed reviews of their manuscripts from an expert panel of authors, editors, and agents. Popular vote will determine the winner. (For full info, see the contest FAQ, and also the official contest rules).
I blogged twice about the Award last October. My reservations about people's choice-style awards for literature remain unchanged, with the additional proviso that entrants can expect to be spammed by Amazon with come-ons for its CreateSpace self-publishing service (to enter, you must first register with CreateSpace). That said, this is a solid competition with a worthwhile prize--and possible fringe benefits, as Penguin offered contracts not just to last year's winner, but to four of the finalists. Also, unlike many contests, the Breakthrough Novel Award doesn't tie your manuscript up in exclusive submission for a huge amount of time.
In fact, those possible fringe benefits may be the main reason to enter the contest. Last year's winner, Bill Loehfelm, was announced in early April, and his book was rushed to market, coming out just four months later, in August. A rush to publication isn't such a great thing; as frustrated as writers sometimes get with the year or more that elapses between contract signing and publication, there are good reasons for that long lead time. For the four finalists, whose books are due in 2009 and 2010, Penguin allowed a more normal timeline, making possible not just a more leisurely editing process, but also the important pre-book marketing that plays such a vital role in books' success. In my opinion, they got the better deal.