Reinventing the Writing Contest

Reinventing the Writing Contest

How one eBook retailer is making literature more social

Millions of people dream of making it big in literature, yet there are very few who actually manage to finish a book, let alone get published. One eBook retailer is taking a page from reality TV competitions by looking for undiscovered writing talent in a new contest format.

Winning a writing contest has always been one way to bypass the publishers’ slush piles of unsolicited manuscripts. But the problem with these contests is that winning is like playing the lottery: for each lucky winner there’s an enormous amount of losers. That makes the experience frustrating for writers and creates yet another way for their work to remain unread.

eBookMall, one of the most experienced independent eBook retailers, wanted to do something different. Inspired by the TV successes of American Idol and The Voice, they came up with an exciting approach to running a writing contest. eBookMall’s “America’s Next Author” contest is engaging, transparent, and entertaining.

eBookMall set about to do something new and asked: What if there’s a transparent alternative? What if each author could read the competition’s entries? How can writers involve their friends and family to help them win, without making it a popularity contest?

Martijn Leenders, eBookMall’s Managing Director explains: “In all these boring contests, you send in a story, wait a couple of months, and probably never hear anything again. That’s not very useful if you want to make it as an author. We also realized there are no writing contests where the most important factor of actually becoming a successful author, namely your mass appeal and marketability, play any significant role. America’s Next Author combines writing quality and popularity, all while offering authors a great platform for getting noticed.”

So how does America’s Next Author work? At first glance, it appears to be a well-designed collection of stories and author profiles, where visitors can vote for stories and post reviews. This is where things become interesting, because this contest combines several online and social voting methods into something eBookMall calls “Author Rank”. Each author’s rank is featured prominently on their profile page and is updated daily.

Leenders explains: “In addition to having the public decide which stories they prefer, we needed an advanced ranking system that would sort out quality and potentially great stories. In other words, what Google does for search, we are doing for authors.”

Human Factor

The ranking takes into account a large number of factors, including votes, Tweets, Facebook likes, reviews, and many more. eBookMall developed its own sophisticated ranking algorithm that is able to determine which reviews are written by more reliable readers, weeding out those that are seeking to unfairly manipulate results.

Bonnie Martin is eBookMall’s publishing manager, and says: “From the start there were authors who tried to outsmart the system. It turned out there was no need for us to worry, because the ranking system is able to cope with any unusual voting patterns. We’ve already had three weekly nominees with excellent stories, showing that the ranking system works well. And what I like most about America’s Next Author is that everybody can follow the progress every single day.”

Those daily updates to the Author Ranking turned out to be very popular amongst participants. “Authors check in daily to see how they’re doing. Some have told us it’s very addictive to see what their promotion efforts bring in terms of ranking and reader feedback. I’m almost worried we’re keeping them away from their writing.”

Leenders smiles, before adding, “For readers it might even be more fun. Since writers can still join while the contest is underway, readers get to discover new stories, see if their favorites are winning, and they even have the chance to win an iPad or eReader for their reviews.”

However smart their ranking algorithm, eBookMall does use a jury as well. Similar to popular TV contests, a jury is looking for hidden gems that didn’t make it to the top of the public vote. The jury will nominate four authors as wildcards, adding them to the eight that are picked by the public. These twelve authors will continue on to a battle round later in the competition.

“We needed a safety valve. This is the first time someone is doing anything like this and our ranking system was never tested in a large contest. With our system performing better than we expected, the jury can completely focus on helping out writers by giving additional feedback,” says Leenders.

Serious Interest

It wasn’t an easy path, Martijn Leenders explains. “We encountered some skepticism, mainly from people who were worried about how this would work and how we would deal with plagiarism and publication rights. That was not unexpected because this contest is something quite different from what they’re used to. Authors are not always accustomed to having their writing open to the public and presenting themselves as a brand. That takes a lot of guts!”

The contest has seen serious interest from the publishing industry. In theory, America’s Next Author and its underlying technology might be useful in engaging readers and discovering new talent.

Authors seem to like it so far. Leenders says: “After the first week we started receiving messages from participants who are seeing a sudden rise in interest on their own Facebook pages and blogs. That makes us proud of the work we’re doing. We’ve managed to create a new platform for authors to test the quality of their work and see if they’re up for bigger things in literature.”

Or as one participant posted on Twitter, “Your contest is an emotional roller-coaster!”

  • America’s Next Author has reinvented the writing contest, bringing it into the 21st century with social media and online voting.
  •  America’s Next Author removes the lottery-like effect of old fashioned writing contests by allowing participants to promote their stories.
  •  It’s not just a popularity contest! eBookMall’s “Author Ranking” algorithm uses many factors to determine the quality of the writing, too.
  •  Like American Idol or The Voice, America’s Next Author seeks to find undiscovered talent.
  •  In 2012 authors have to meet their readers where they are, on Twitter, Facebook, blogs, and other social media platforms. This contest pushes writers to do that.
  •  Honest reviews posted on stories give aspiring authors real feedback that they can use to improve their craft. It takes courage to be open to criticism, but it’s worth it.
  •  Writing is usually a lonely endeavor, but when you enter America’s Next Author you’re immediately involved in a community of writers and readers.
  •  Our jury members provide a safety net. They double-check the results of our ranking system and are looking for hidden gems that might have been missed by the public.
  •  It’s also fun for readers! Everyone can read all the stories for free, and there’s a chance to win an iPad or eReader for writing quality reviews.


America’s Next Author Competition —

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Twitter — #ANA2012
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(This article may be re-posted.)

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About The eBook Reader

I love reading and I love technology. eBooks are an interesting combination of the two.

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