A rewind of the 2012 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award contest

Welcome to my ABNA (Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award) page.

There is a plethora of curiosity about this contest and I want to give my fellow writers the low down.

I don't think I have ever said "low down" before. That made me laugh.

My fellow winner, Alan Averill, is doing something similar at his blog, and answering all kinds of questions. You can find him at www.alanaverill.com.

ABNA - Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award contest logo
Anyway, I am contacted often with questions about the contest. I know what fellow writers want- they want the gritty details and most all, they want some numbers. I know what readers want- they want to know what happens behind the curtain before they pick up a book and read it. Time to fork over the answers.

I'm going to call this "A year ago today" and walk my readers through the emotions and practical steps I took to get my book off the ground. I will just start highlighting points of my journey to publication until I reach the big climax- winning ABNA, and in August I'll tell you all about releasing a book through a big house publisher.


February 4, 2012- One Month

There are a lot of numbers people throw around in publishing. One I had always heard was "3000." If your book can sell 3000 copies in less than three months then....
Yeah, what then?
Everyone just told me that that would be really good.
Let me blow up a balloon and hum into my kazoo. Because I hit that goal in less than three weeks.
And had no idea what to do with it. 

Nothing magical happened. I didn't walk into Barnes and Noble or Rainy Day books and see my novel nestled safely on a cozy shelf.
So when it comes to counting sales, I guess you can do it. But it doesn't always translate into something happening. It's sort of more FYI or to track your profits.
And that is when I realized that because I never did any of this for money, money would never make me feel successful. I had written my book because I wanted, for a few lines or a few words, to make the world a lovelier place.
And how do you measure that? You really can't. 

So when was I successful? I didn't know.
It is also about this time that I got my first bad reviews. Awful reviews. I mean people who thought they could puke on a piece of paper and come up with something better.

And what do you do with that?  I didn't know.
My first thought was that a hundred strangers had lied about how they loved the book and only three had logged in and told the truth- I was a fraud. I wasted people's time and money.
It was my worst fear.
One night I cried until my husband's sweatshirt was soaked through to his skin and asked him to please, please, please, make my book disappear.
And he was thinking, "You just got an agent and good reviews are flying in and you're making tons of money. What exactly is the matter with my gorgeous, hilarious, capable but irrational wife?" (Okay, maybe I added a few words there. For interest...)
And what was happening was I was scared. Scared to fail and equally terrified I would succeed without deserving it. That almost seemed worse.
My husband gave me a tissue and a bemused grin and promised that if I still felt that way in three days, we would call it quits.

And he was right. After the sword went through the first time it never hurt as bad after that. I went online and read reviews of my favorite books in the world. Masterpieces. And I read through the one star rants and took a deep, relieved breath and learned to move on. If someone can hate Maniac Magee and Jane Eyre there's no reason I should get off scot-free
One year ago today, I was remembering what really mattered.


January 29, 2012- Day 25

She didn't change her mind! My agent sent the contract with an empty line for my name. Do you know how long I held that paper? Okay, neither do I, but I know I sat in the kitchen staring at it much longer than I stare at, say, water bills. My husband wouldn't let me sign it until he pulled out all of his professional camera equipment. He wanted the moment for posterity. (Someday posterity will look up from their holographs and say, "Why do I have to look at pictures of Great Grandma with a piece of paper?")

I grabbed my favorite pen and in a few seconds I went from being a girl who tried to write a story  to an author with a New York agent. It was the first time a professional in the industry gave me the thumbs up.

And because he was so excited by the unexpected successes we were experiencing, my husband reminded me about "that contest from Amazon where someone gets a Penguin contract."

For the seventieth hundredth time. And for the seventieth hundredth time I told him that people don't really win those things and this person certainly wouldn't. I didn't even consider it until he told me that if I didn't at least try he would enter for me. And it wasn't a bluff. It was at eleven o'clock at night before the contest closed that I sat down and pounded out my pitch and personal information, more than a little annoyed because I wanted to be in bed instead of wasting my time.

At eleven thirty I was done and promptly proceeded to forget all about entering because I found the idea that anything could come of it ludicrous.

Just change my name to Thomas because there's never been a bigger doubter.
But just like Thomas, I was about to change my tune big time.

You can join my posterity and see my contract signing here. (I know seeing me holding a pen is thrilling, but don't all push and shove at once. I only get so much bandwidth, people.)  

January 19, 2012- Day fifteen

A year ago today I had spoken to an agent on the phone. Not sure a phone call ever made my legs shake like that.
Everything I said was either 1. Stupid or 2. Moronic.

I don't know if it was the New York accent or the sleeplessness.
After two weeks my sleeping patterns were still completely shot.
There were nights where I never slept at all!

My one thought was "She will change her mind"
But by this time the agent was drawing up a contract and getting ready to send it over. My one thought was "She will change her mind".

She will be writing up the contract and reason will hit her in the face and she will realize that I am nobody and change her mind."
There are days when there is nothing better than being wrong.
What I had in my hand was a little sprout.
It was the possibility of something wonderful, but not a promise.
How could I keep it growing? How could I leverage the unexpected sales and ratings to my advantage and make my dream of publishing come true?
And while my husband and I took this fragile little sprout in our hands and wondered how to make it blossom, I think we realized we couldn't.
If it bloomed it would bloom. If it withered despite our best efforts, it would wither.
I had to give my best and accept whatever results came.
I might be holding a weed, or a magic beanstalk and only time would tell.
And with time I realized it was neither- not something awful and useless. Not something unprecedented and shocking.

I was holding a little four leaf clover
What I had was what I needed. I would later find that I was holding a little four leaf clover

and it was going to burst out in golden luck.

But that day, despite the agent and the sales, I was gripped with fear. I refused to let my expectations rise because the higher my book took me the more I anticipated the crash. What I tried to do was concentrate on the normal things. The trivial things. The wonderful things.

You can see my blog post from a year ago today right here.


JANUARY 10, 2012- Day six

A year ago today is when I started to realize my book wasn't following the rules.

  1. Self-published books are supposed to sell a couple hundred copies.
  2. Writers are supposed to network and build up a base of supporters and associates before a book   can get off the ground.
  3. A writer should never expect their first book to get off the ground.

I had used up all five days of my free e-book promotion and was certain that no one would actually spend money to buy a book they never heard of from an author they never heard of. I thought my fun five day ride was over forever. But a year ago today when my book flipped from the free category to the $2.99 category the orders kept coming.
And coming.

A friend put up a post on Facebook to congratulate me on making it to Kindle's front page and being listed as the number two literary fiction book, just under The Help. I laughed and asked her where she got that idea. She sounded as stunned as I did. "Don't you know?" she asked. "Open Amazon."
With nothing but incredulity, I obeyed.
And almost fainted.

On Little Wings was flying without me. I had not advertised, marketed or even allowed for the possibility that anyone would pay for my book. The one step I had taken was to arrange for a blog tour and sent out copies to eighteen book reviewers. Only one of these reviewers had published their opinion of my book at this point.

So how did it happen?

This is where I look back at you with wide eyes and give you a huge shrug because I have no idea. I had 100 friends on Amazon.
I had 15 blog followers.
I told my friends.
They told their friends.
And then I have no idea what happened.

I want to share the secrets and tell you a foolproof way to make this happen over and over again, but I don't know the secret. I have no illusions that this would happen for me twice. If I had to guess what did it then I credit it to my photographer husband's beautiful cover, a free chapter that people could read to get hooked, A decent blurb, some complimentary reviews, a low price point and

It was also this day that an agent, for the first time ever, wrote a personal email and asked for my manuscript.
A year ago today I felt a trembling under my feet, a warning that something was coming, something was changing... and nothing was going to follow the rules.

You can see that day as it happened- January 8th, 2012


JANUARY 8, 2012- four days after self publishing my book on Amazon

So, for my first installment let me take you back exactly one year to January 8th, 2012. My book had been available for exactly four days on Amazon and I had never heard of ABNA.

KDP Select logo
After trying to get an agent and publisher and failing big time, I gave up on the idea of publishing books. I decided to make my first, and I thought, only, book available to my friends and family through Amazon KDP (kindle direct publishing). That way they could have it for free and if felt good to finally share the fruits of my labor.

On Little Wings by Regina Sirois for Kindle
After four days my book had been downloaded by far more than my family and my three friends. Okay, I might have more than three friends, but I certainly don't have thousands. Of course, none of that had any monetary value (I didn't make a cent because I didn't charge a cent) but since I never expected to make a cent, that didn't really matter. I was reeling from the fact that thousands of people owned a book I wrote. That was good enough for me. And scary enough for me. I had meant to put my toe in and found myself falling off the high dive into the deep end. There was an indescribable fear as I waited to see if I would belly-flop and anticipated the pain of horrible reviews.  It made for some sleepless nights.

You can see my blog entry from exactly a year ago today

I made one last effort to query and sent out my KDP stats along with my first reviews that came in. (I was shocked to see reviews in twenty four hours!) I never expected anyone to read that fast! But read they did, review they did, and I sent it all out to ten more agents, wondering if maybe life had a few surprises for me yet.

A year ago today, I was glued to my computer, clicking refresh to see how many new people downloaded my book, wondering if any agents would write back, with no idea how my life was about to change...

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