Carrie Underwood - photo credit

Had the idea for the wildly successful (yet perhaps waning) American Idol not been born in the mind of Simon Fuller and then finally realized as a television show, singers like Carrie Underwood likely might never have been “discovered”. Clearly Underwood had “it”. She was and is enormously talented, yet prior to the fourth season of Idol in 2005, no one knew. NO ONE. Now read of her list of accomplishments (quote from Wikipedia):

“[Underwood] became a multi-platinum selling recording artist, a winner of several Grammy Awards, Billboard Music Awards and American Music Awards, a Golden Globe Award nominee, a three-time Academy of Country Music and Country Music Association Female Vocalist winner, and a two-time ACM Entertainer of the Year. She is the first-ever female artist to win back-to-back Academy of Country Music (ACM) Awards for Entertainer of the Year (2009/10). Underwood was inducted into and became a member of the Grand Ole Opry in 2008. She was also inducted into the Oklahoma Music Hall of Fame in 2009.[1] Billboard named Underwood Country Music’s reigning Queen in 2012.”

I’ll say it again; it bears repeating: without American Idol, and the chance to show her talent to America and the world, she might never have left Hogwaller Hollow, or whatever quaint, small burg from whence she came (her true background is available in the article link above if you want to read it).

Since Idol’s success, shows have been launched for undiscovered dancers, comedians, hoarders, storage locker bidders…okay, digressing. Concentrate, concentrate.

America’s Got Talent offers a venue for any act, of any age, a shot at a million dollars and a headlining act in Las Vegas. Comedian/ventriloquist/singer impressionist Terry Fator, among others, is an incredible talent that before the competition went mostly unnoticed, at least on a grand scale.

I’ve written about this before. Why not a competition for novelists? I’ve also conceded before that this idea would be unlikely to garner interest for a television audience (then again, I would never have guessed viewers would enjoy touring the homes of people who keep mountains of garbage on their floors and sleep next to it on cots). Last night I was thinking of a way such a competition could work. I’ve always been a pretty big March Madness fan (college basketball tournament in March of each year that determines the national champion—it is a bracket of 64 teams).

So I thought, okay, to enter you must have at least one book self-published (no “traditionally” published writers or authors with agents; this competition is to find unknown Indie writers). The writer chooses the book they will enter (for some, if only one book is available, then the decision is easy). The entries are then vetted by a huge panel of “first tier” judges. These do not have to be famous people, or really even all that qualified. A pool of reader volunteers might work (trust me, my nephew tried out for Idol 3-4 years in a row and never got past the folding table on the grass in the stadium where some completely unknown person was half-talking to a colleague, half-saying to the next person in line, without even making eye contact “give me 3 seconds of your best song” and then, without even really listening, waved people off almost immediately shouting “NEXT”).


A totally ficticious example of a smaller bracket, using friends' covers, etc.

To further the example, through this vetting process of reading a chapter (or in some cases perhaps even a sentence), the field is narrowed to 64 books that really have a shot at winning (i.e that the original evaluation team passes along to a judging panel, believing them to have the quality necessary to compete). I think three things would potentially make this contest legitimate and garner enough attention to really help not just the winner, but the other Indie semi-finalist authors in the competition as well:

1) A competition sponsorship from someone like Amazon, Barnes and Noble, etc.

2) A panel of participating celebrity/known authors that narrow the field to, say, the Sweet Sixteen.

3) Reader (i.e. public) voting determining the rest of the book advancement from the Sweet Sixteen down to the winner/champion.

Basically, the competition follows a similar blueprint to what’s already been laid out by AI, AGT, etc. Only rather than television, this is hosted on the sponsor’s website (Amazon or B&N would clearly be the hopefuls).

(L to R) AGT's Host, Nick Cannon, and the three judges: Sharon Osbourne, Howard Stern, and Howie Mandel)

What shows like American Idol and America’s Got Talent (and all their offshoots in myriad other countries) offer is exposure which is what the talented Indie author seeks more desperately than King Arthur sought the Holy Grail. Yes, to win is something, and perhaps the winner receives a certain dollar amount and a chance to meet with NY agents and/or publishers. But the whole field of books gain that elusive exposure, those who advance further receiving even more.

Yes, companies like Writer’s Digest and other websites (even Amazon) offer contests, but I’ve yet to see a large-scale competition that brings in both the known celebrity authors and has the public reading and voting. Therein lies the key to the Indie author (and, assuming the competition becomes popular, also opportunity for sales, advertising, etc. for the company that buys in on the idea).

Where is American Idol for Authors?


20 Responses to American Idol for Authors

  1. Jo VonBargen says:

    This could work in a country like India, where literature and poetry are revered and virtually woven into the national fabric. Perhaps there was a time when this was true here, but not today, I fear. Yet who’s to say? I could be totally wrong. Perhaps it would be such a novelty here that people would be intrigued!

    • rsguthrie says:

      When I see the “realities” that have transfixed viewer/consumers (storage locker bidding, hoarding, “I Didn’t Know I Was Pregnant) I think anything is possible. Remember, this would theoretically be run through a reader’s website/company like Amazon or B&N (not televised necessarily).

  2. I don’t think any such competition should necessarily be limited to self-published books, just books that are not traditionally published – i.e. unpublished works should ba permitted to compete, because there are plenty of authors who don’t have a traditional publisher or an agent, but aren’t self-published because they want to try and get one first. I see no reason why those people should be excluded, sincethey are probably trying just as hard as indie authors to get noticed, just in different ways.

    • rsguthrie says:

      I would say as long as the book is complete, it really wouldn’t make any difference whether it had been self-published yet. The point here is for talented Indie authors to find an audience (i.e. “get discovered”)—a completed work that has not found a traditional publisher still qualifies as Independent (whether available for purchase or not). Unlike a lot of contests for book awards that exclude books that are not traditionally published, you want the competition to be about quality, not politics. I do think the book must be complete, however, and not partial.

  3. I think this is a brilliant idea. The only problem: What’s in it for the sponsor?

    With TV competition “reality” shows, the sponsors get exposure, too – even more than the competitors. But how would this contest increase the profile of B&N or Amazon?

    • rsguthrie says:

      I am thinking the TV competition is aired and would make a great new reality show for OWN, Oprah’s new network. Then Amazon, B&N, etc. can advertise big time, promoting everything from Kindle to Nook to Book. One of my favorite scenes is in “The Cable Guy” where the whole world is watching, waiting, anticipating, glued to the boob tube, the murder trial verdict about to be read, and the satellite is destroyed and every home in the area goes to static. A guy in a recliner looks at his TV, completely perplexed as to what he can possible do next, and then he looks on his snack food-covered table next to him, sees a book lying there, shrugs, starts reading, and smiles.

      It’s time to prove that reading is still puts the FUN in fundamentals, baby. Video games and reality shows about hoarders and alligator killers move aside! 🙂

  4. Caleb Pirtle says:

    Great idea. One problem. With 700,000 independent authors, the auditions would take a decade to complete.

  5. I like the idea, Rob – I assume you mean it as a TV show…It could be a reality-type show where the 16 selected authors (those that have successfully gone through your tiered judging process) would be asked to participate and pitch their book to the TV audience that would get to vote from the TV set of course and from home as well… They could also show their book trailer if they’ve got one…And the pitching should lead to questions from both the “judges” and the audience. It could be sort of fun to watch! But since I’m a foreigner, I’d like to see something like that opened to the whole (English-speaking) world!
    Hey, why can’t I dream?

    • rsguthrie says:

      I’d say three things in reply:

      1) TV would be awesome—I am thinking a new reality show for OWN, Oprah’s new network.
      2) I like the idea of readers/public voting not on a pitch but after reading the books!
      3) Dreaming is not only allowed but ENCOURAGED!


  6. Andrew says:

    You do know that Amazon already has this contest, right? It’s called the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award. It happens at the beginning of every year with entries being due end of Jan/beginning of Feb.

    • rsguthrie says:

      Yep, I mentioned it in one of the comments, I think. It’s not “this”, however — format I am talking about is a much grander scale, heavily involves readers, hype for semi-finalists, etc. (And so what a grand opportunity for B&N to steal some thunder.) 😉

  7. Literary agent, Arielle Eckstut and David Henry Sterry actually hold a Pitchapalooza event which is considered an American Idol for writers. Here’s the link to their page:

  8. I love this idea, I just have one question. What would be the prize? In American Idol and other such shows (X-Factor, for example), the winner get’s a recording contract. Would the winner of this get a publishing contract for the book that won, with a traditional publisher?

    • rsguthrie says:

      I think that would be the ultimate goal—or at least a meeting with a full-fledged agent and/or traditional publisher (which is difficult enough to get itself)—but yes, I fully believe that once the big publishers saw the quality of books in the contest (like Idol with music), they would hopefully get on board. It’s high time the was an Idol-like chance for writers. It would benefit the readers as well as the writers, getting talented unknowns to the public that doesn’t even know will love them (e.g. Carrie Underwood with American Idol). Maybe you get an avid reader like Oprah and her book club behind it—that too me is a very logical collaboration.

  9. This would be great. Something more frequent than the annual Amazon contest. But I think Amazon should put it on. They’ve got the weight. Get some high-profile authors to judge. But what would be the prize? As Indie authors we spend half our waking lives reading blogs like yours & Konrath’s, pissing and moaning about traditional publishing. It’d have to be life-changing money. F.U.-money. Konrath said he’d delete his entire blog for a million dollars. Whatever.

    • rsguthrie says:

      I’d delete my entire blog for half that. Okay, maybe three-quarters. But I’d warn you first—let you download all my genius. (‘Scuse me while I go barf.) 😉 Seriously, though, I think the intent (especially for authors) is the exposure of all the books making it into (and further into) the competition. Think of Chris Daughtry. Dude finishes like sixth on American Idol and in the rock and roll genre he’s as successful (or acceptably so, coming from unknown) as Carrie Underwood. If an Indie writer has a great book, they are screwed. How to get it up on the damn board and exposed to enough readers to have a SHOT. That’s as valuable as winning. Certainly a million dollars would be an AWESOME prize and would also serve notice that READING is as important (and as entertaining) as all the other arts (calling OPRAH)! I’d still like the esteem of having a big publisher print my book. Who wouldn’t? And that could certainly be another prize for the winner (or perhaps for semi-finalists). It could work. It could be a great reality show for OWN (Oprah’s new network). Huh? Huh? Methinks so.

  10. […] was replying to comments on the original “American Idol for Authors” post and the creative juices (and pitch man) in me started into overdrive. I noticed the […]

  11. Robbi Bryant says:

    I love this idea. With texting and gaming and all the other distractions from reading, wouldn’t this be great! Who would have thought that a talent contest for singers or a glorified “gong show” would become so popular? Bravo.

Social Widgets powered by

Featuring Recent Posts WordPress Widget development by YD