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Amazon and Penguin want your unpublished novel

Not content to be sidelined by the literary establishment any longer, Amazon announced on Monday that it is teaming up with Penguin Group to launch a new prize for unpublished novelists. Appropriately, the “jury” is composed of amateur reviewers and established editors, who will award the top prize of a Penguin publishing contract and a US$25,000 advance:

… contestants from 20 countries [including Canada, except for residents of Quebec] can submit unpublished manuscripts of English-language novels to Amazon, which will assign a small group of its top-rated online reviewers to evaluate 5,000-word excerpts and narrow the field to 1,000. The full manuscripts of those semifinalists will be submitted to Publishers Weekly, which will assign reviewers to each. Amazon will post the reviews, along with excerpts, online, where customers can make comments. Using those comments and the magazine’s reviews, Penguin will winnow the field to 100 finalists who will get two readings by Penguin editors. When a final 10 manuscripts are selected, a panel including Elizabeth Gilbert, the author of the current nonfiction paperback best seller Eat, Pray, Love, and John Freeman, the president of the National Book Critics Circle, will read and post comments on the novels at Amazon. Readers can then vote on the winner …

Whether the formula is hopelessly baroque or refreshingly democratic remains to be seen, but its complexity seems to confirm one thing: clearly, scouting literary talent is a subtle art.