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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 — http://www.ebookmall.com/americasnextauthor

Follow America’s Next Author:

Twitter — https://twitter.com/aNextAuthor #ANA2012
Facebook — http://www.facebook.com/AmericasNextAuthor

(This article may be re-posted.)

eBookMall Publishing Review

publish your ebookseBookMall.com re-launched their publishing services sometime last month. Authors and publishers weren’t able to submit ebooks to be sold on their website for a while during the time that they were making big changes to their website. I was curious whether they’d changed their submission rules and whether they were in line with the current industry standards, so I signed up as an author to find out more about their system. All in all, their requirements and payments seem to be pretty comparable to most other indie services. The way you submit ebooks is a little different but pretty straightforward once you actually get into it. I’ll go over what I thought were the most important aspects below.

Overall Process

Here is the basic overall process for submitting ebooks to eBookMall.com:

  • Create an account on their website.
  • Email them at ‘submissions (at) ebookmall.com’ to let them know you’re interested in selling your ebooks on their website.
  • They send you a package of PDF documents. This includes the official Terms of Service, a guide to submitting ebooks, a guide to having your manuscript converted into ebook format, a guide to sending in author bios and photos, a spreadsheet that you use to organize your ebook data, and a PDF of codes so you can specify things like the category placement that you want.
  • You prepare your ebook files and email them in.
  • They add your ebooks to eBookMall.com

I thought that these PDF guides were very professionally formatted and easy to use. It is a lot of information to go over, but it’s pretty simple once you just start looking through it. It’s pretty much the same information that you’d get from other websites.


DRM is something that you’ll want to consider. If you submit your ebooks to eBookMall directly through this program, your ebooks will not have DRM. If you have your heart set on having DRM on your ebook downloads, you can still sell your ebooks at eBookMall but you have to do it through a third party: Ingram’s ‘Lightning Source’ ebook distribution (www.lightningsource.com). As far as I know, Lightning Source only accepts publishers, not individual authors, but it’s possible that has changed so you can always look into it. If you sell your ebooks through Lightning Source you can have them distributed out to a lot of ebook websites and they apply Adobe’s DRM to the downloads.

eBook Formats

eBookMall is only accepting PDF and ePub formats. They also used to sell Microsoft Reader and Mobipocket, but those formats have both gone by the wayside. Kindle ebooks are not accepted because Kindle ebooks are really only sold at Amazon.


There were a couple restrictions that I noticed while reading through their documents:

First, they require that you are the copyright holder of the ebook (or represent the copyright holder) — they don’t accept any books that have expired into the public domain and they don’t accept ebooks that you can buy and then sell again (those ebooks with resell rights that are kind of junk content).

I also got the overall impression that they want your ebooks to look pretty professional. They probably wouldn’t accept ebooks that look sloppy or unfinished. This is good because you can assume that most ebooks you buy on their website will be good quality, but it might make it tougher for authors who don’t know much about how to create their own ebooks.

There are other minor details as well, like they require your cover images to be sent in as JPGs that are only vertically oriented (as most book covers are). Each ebook submitted has to be under 10 MB. Also, you can submit free ebooks but they will have to pass with stricter rules. Basically they just want to make sure that any submitted free ebooks don’t contain spam or very little value.

Submission Method

The way in which you actually submit your ebooks is a little different than on other websites. Instead of filling in a form online, they want you to prepare a spreadsheet. This might sound intimidating at first, but it’s basically all the same data that you’d type into an online form. I guess I see where they’re coming from with this method because you can use your spreadsheet to submit anywhere from 1 to 10,000 ebooks (or whatever their upper limit is – I didn’t see anything about that) and you don’t have to keep filling in the same form over and over. You’ll probably also be able to just copy&paste a lot of stuff.

In a nutshell, you just enter the standard information about your ebooks: title, author name, filenames of the ebook and cover image, price, categories, whether your file is printable or not, ISBN (not required), product description, and territories where you want the ebooks to be sold. You can limit this to specific countries or sell worldwide. Once you have all of this filled out, all you have to do is email them your spreadsheet, ebook files, and cover image files.

Percentage Earned

Authors will earn 50% of the sale price. This struck me as kind of low at first, but they also explain that they don’t charge any hidden fees. eBookMall pays for all credit card transaction fees, for example, so their half of the money is eaten up by basic business overhead costs. It might still end up being less than other websites, I’m not sure. Either way, my thought is that you can at least use them as another ebook outlet and earn something rather than nothing.

One restriction to consider is that they’re only paying via PayPal, so you’ll need a PayPal account. They provide live sales reporting so you can always login and check on your sales.

Publishing New eBooks

If you have a book manuscript you can get it converted into a PDF or ePub ebook. They provide a separate guide for this in the package of documents that you get. You have to send them your manuscript in a digital format such as Word, RTF, or Open Office Document. They say that this service starts at $69 but can be more, depending on the book. They don’t do any editing so you have to get that done yourself. They don’t have any specific regulations about page sizes, margins, fonts, etc, but request that you basically lay out your manuscript the way you want it to look when published. So this is a pretty basic service, more of a simple manuscript-to-ebook conversion than actual publishing. The same requirements about owning the copyright apply to this service, and they don’t accept public domain works. They only accept manuscripts written in English.

Go to ebookmall.com/publish-ebooks or Publish eBooks to get started.

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