ABNA is an annual contest “to find and develop new voices in fiction” sponsored by Amazon, Penguin, and Publishers Weekly. Its two Grand Prizes (General Fiction and Young Adult Fiction) include publication by Penguin with a $15,000 advance. The winnowing process from 5,000 entries in each category goes through several stages: the pitch, the first chapter, a complete review by Publishers Weekly, and a popularity contest of the final three by Amazon readers. This process is a reasonable mirror of an individual browsing in a bookstore, assessing, reading and then recommending a book, so I don’t see any problem with the contest’s first ruthless cut being made on the pitch alone.
In 2009: “The Gospel According to the Romans” made it to the Quarterfinals. Here is one of the professional reviews:
“This is exceptionally erudite, flawless, and subversively delicious. The author blends an almost vicious comedy to some serious history for a compelling historical fiction. The characters are richly drawn, the narrative fierce, muscular, compelling. The author has mastery of prose and story and knows how to mold the English language into an empire of a story. The action and dialogue move the story forward as well as develop the characters. The setting is atmospheric with the era pitch perfect. This is a story I would like to read in full.”
But of course one good review doesn’t win the whole thing for you. In the case of “The Gospel”, whoever the next reader was rejected it. Perhaps the process favors extremely professional but strictly mainstream works (as opposed to the implied unconventionality in the hyped “new voices”), because at various points a single reviewer can stop a manuscript from going any further. This is unfortunate for those of us who don’t mind upsetting 50% of the reading public for the sake of connecting with the other 50%.
ABNA tries to compensate for this by having multiple judges, and by changing them each year, so that no single opinion will dominate. But it is still the mainstream publisher’s consensus view, rather than the visionary small press view, that is likely to produce the final winner.
Regardless of how you see yourself as a writer, if you write novel-length fiction you should enter ABNA for the sake of getting closer to your publishing and reading markets… as well as for the chance at that Penguin contract!