ABNA was nice while it lasted, but…

…not, in retrospect, quite as nice as I’d expected.

Amazon Publishing’s Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award is a brilliant idea to acquire new authors of quality work, usually without the fuss of agents, while building engagement among its self-published authors and readers. Kudos to them for coming up with it.

I wasn’t at all sure about entering. The Awful Mess is women’s fiction, and it would be up against the entire general fiction category. My book verges on romance, and it has progressive religious elements. I didn’t think either aspect was going to help it. My book also has two sex scenes and some bad language. This didn’t seem to fit the guidelines for the contest. Finally, I suspected that this whole process would be a bit of a distraction from my game plan. And it was.

On the plus side, getting to the quarter finals would include a free Publishers Weekly review. And a couple of fellow authors, including one who’d made it to the quarter-finals before, urged me to jump in. I did my research and noticed generally strong marketing by Amazon for the previous winners. So, ultimately, I did jump in, with a version in which the two explicit sex scenes were jumped over.

And, as it turns out, the book made it to the quarter-finals and then into the semi-finals — which is to say, it was one of five semi-finalists for the general fiction category.

I'm in there with the ABNA semi-finalists -- I'm not just making it up!

Yes, I really was in there with the ABNA semi-finalists — I’m not just making it up!

Personally, I would not be shocked if Amazon was behind the scenes somewhere guiding this result, since they might have noticed that this book was doing pretty well for an indie debut (in its first year it sold over 1,200 copies, and had over 50,000 free downloads). If I were an acquisitions editor in their publishing division, I might think this looks like an author with potential. (The book that won the general fiction category was already self-published, too, and doing even better.)

I especially wondered this after I got my sought-after review — which, it turned out, was not really a Publishers Weekly review, in the sense of being a review actually written for and published in Publishers Weekly. It was uniformly positive, for which I was very thankful, but it seemed a little off, as if the person who wrote it hadn’t really read the entire book. It suggests that my heroine fends men off (she tries, but she’s not very good at it), and references the “rowdy bars” of the small New England town. I suppose there is one kerfuffle in one bar, but it’s hardly a major plot element. It also uses the phrase “small New England town” twice in six sentences. While I’m very grateful that it is so positive, it’s not something I can easily use for marketing, especially since I have to explain that it’s from the ABNA contest and the book was not exactly the same. So I consider this aspect a bit of a bust.

I decided that I would not attempt to enlist my friends or mount a social media campaign to gain reviews for the ABNA excerpt. I already had 170+ real reviews on the full novel, so it seemed kind of silly. Also, I was moving house and had no time to even send out a press release. This may or may not have played a part in the reality that I didn’t win my category.

Part of the reason I didn’t fight for it may be that I was feeling ambivalent about becoming an Amazon Publishing author. That it would be financially advantageous, I have little doubt. I notice that Amazon promotes its own books quite effectively, and I considered the contract all semi-finalists sign eminently fair (I once worked as an acquisitions editor, so I am more familiar with publishing contracts than most folks). But whether Amazon was likely to be a happy partner with me as I moved ahead on later books — books with even more sexual themes, plus some controversial content in the second — I wasn’t sure.

I noticed they had a truly huge list of authors in their various publishing imprints, so I had no idea what kind of attention I would get (not that I have any complaints about communication from them during this process — it was always prompt and courteous). And while Kindle Select was a great place to launch The Awful Mess, staying exclusive to Amazon would mean no branching out into Kobo, Nook, the iStore, or bookstores going forward. It might get me even less access to local bookstores than I already have as an indie. I’m not sure what it would mean for libraries, but I doubt it would help much.

Finally, my sales dipped pretty precipitously during this process. Most of this, I’m sure, is because I haven’t been promoting. After signing that contract, I wasn’t sure how much I could promote. When I finally asked, initially I was told I could do anything as a self-publisher, but then when I double-checked before confirming a BookBub promotion, and the product manager also double-checked, the lawyers said that during final voting that kind of promotion would be a no-no. Part of the sales dip may also be that I let my Kindle Select status expire because I was planning to branch out into the other retailers once I had safely lost. (Does Kindle Select status provide a measurable sales advantage on Amazon? I don’t know. I do miss the income from loans, though.) Part of it may also be confusion between the ABNA excerpt and the full book, though I doubt it.

At any rate, at this point I’m so close to launching the second book that I’m going to go ahead and get those ducks lined up before I do any serious promoting. I’m now aiming to get that published this fall. (If you’d like to be notified when it’s out, make sure you sign up for my mailing list, and then make sure you also opt in when you get the confirming email.)

So, fellow writers, if you’ve participated in ABNA at any point, did you feel it was productive for you? Would you recommend it to others? Would you do it again?



Five unexpected pleasures of being single again in my 50s

#1 City living. The need for an affordable house pushed me into a city I had originally intended to avoid, if only because of resale issues. But I’m glad it did, because I really like it here. People often think of this city as dangerous and poverty-stricken. It does have some downtrodden neighborhoods, but it’s also beautiful and interesting and lively. In my little subdivision, built in the 40’s, we each have a little lot and a little house – and it’s plenty enough to live in comfortably. I don’t feel unsafe. I don’t have to worry about bears, either. And I’m close to everything.
#2 My space. Even though it’s a much smaller house (less than half the size of the old one), I feel as if I have more space. This isn’t so much because of downsizing as the reason for downsizing — my ex has retired to his beloved Puerto Rico (and we are legally separated). My son has his own TV in his own room now (he’s nineteen, so I don’t feel guilty about that). That means I actually have a living room that I can use as I wish — for reading, or for watching what I want to watch. It’s strange and quite pleasant, after nearly 24 years of marriage in which the remote largely sat in the hands of someone else and togetherness meant watching vast amounts of TV. Also, while sharing the single bathroom with my son does require some adjustment, at least now I can insist that he lower the seat. His future wife should thank me.
#3 No honey-do list. This means it’s entirely up to me to get stuff fixed, or fix it myself. No waiting around, no hinting, no days or weeks or months or years of frustration. Just do it or don’t do it. If it’s not done, it’s on me. Mind you, I miss my husband’s easier fixes (he could easily hang a new fan or light fixture, for example), but a large part of our marriage consisted of me wishing I could fix or replace something and him saying that he would do it – but who knew when – or telling me that it didn’t need to be done, which meant I didn’t feel I could spend money on it. He did come through in a big way once in awhile, but this is not generally an area of our marriage that I will miss – any more than he will, I’m sure. (It’s worth noting that this does NOT mean I’ve become a model of efficiency in getting these things done.)
#4 No tense interior design negotiations. I can hang the pictures I want wherever I want them. And then I can take them down and hang them somewhere else. (Yep, there’s been quite a lot of that.) Since my walls are papered-over paneling and due for painting before too long, I don’t even feel guilty knocking all those holes into them. I’ve also been rearranging furniture to my heart’s content.

Mozzarella, goat cheese, strawberries, peppers, balsamic vinegar, scallions, and oil on romaine. Not bad.

Mozzarella, goat cheese, strawberries, peppers, scallions, crushed almonds, and balsamic vinegar and oil on romaine.

#5 Nuts and berries. Seriously, add cheese and salad fixings and the occasional restaurant foray to that and we’ve pretty much got my diet at the moment. My husband would have been pointedly bringing home packages of steak and chicken by now. (He might well have cooked them, too, mind you.) My son is often away for dinner or just not interested in what I make, so I’m pleasing myself with lots of salads, or just noshing on cheese and bread and fruit. Since much of the cheese is interesting stuff from Honest Weight Food Coop or the Troy Farmer’s Market, it’s been quite really nice. And easy.

Now, I’m not saying I recommend any of this over the benefits of a loving romantic relationship — but when you don’t have that, for whatever reason, you might as well appreciate the unique pleasures of your situation.