Melinda Henneberger:

At the age of 6, James King announced his intention to become a novelist. And in his 50s, that was still the plan. Yes, he paid the bills (and two college tuitions) with his day job writing corporate training materials. But every morning at 5, he'd turn on the computer in his basement in Stamford, Conn., and after a few minutes of staring at the screen, spend the next couple of hours writing fiction no one ever wanted to buy.

Fifty-four book agents had taken a pass on his fourth unpublished novel when he happened upon a link to something called the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award competition on one of those agent's Web sites. "What do I have to lose?" he asked his wife, strictly rhetorically. And this Monday, Aug. 9, as winner of that contest, which was entered by some 6,500 writers in 22 countries, James King's debut novel, "Bill Warrington's Last Chance," will be published by Viking.

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