My friend Gregg and I currently are at war. The problem is, I’m not certain if either one of us is going to win.
We’ve both entered the same novel-writing contest, the top prize of which is $50,000.
He’s the one who told me about the contest, but only about a month before the entry deadline. My first thought was there was no way I could enter because not only didn’t I have a prize-worthy novel completed, I didn’t have any novel at all. So I decided to put the contest out of my mind. My mind, however, had other ideas. It kept saying to me, “Just think of what you could do with $50,000!”
Finally, I sat down and wrote a novel – 55,000 words in just 24 days. I wrote it so fast, I’m still wondering if it even makes any sense, mainly because I barely had time to proofread it. But I was determined to make the contest deadline, even if my character’s love interest in the book is 5’9” tall with brown eyes on page 20 and then suddenly is 5’11” with gray eyes on page 52.
During those 24 days of intense writing, I neglected things like sleeping, housework, the laundry and my friends. I figured the dust, dog fur and dirty laundry still would be there when my book was finished. I wasn’t so sure about my friends, however, who probably thought I either was ignoring them…or I was dead.
When I finally finished my manuscript, I thoroughly read the contest’s entry rules. I got the distinct impression the judges don’t want to do any more reading than is absolutely necessary.
I thought I’d just have to send in my manuscript and that would be it, but no, the judges want three things: first, “the pitch” – a description of the book in under 300 words; second, a sample – the first 3,000-5,000 words of the book; and third, the completed manuscript.
So, what it all boils down to is the all-important pitch. If the judges don’t like the pitch, they’re not going to bother to read anything else. A contestant could write the equivalent of another “The Wizard of Oz,” but if the pitch isn’t exciting, intriguing and well-written, the book itself never will make it to the judges’ eyeballs.
For example, if someone pitched “The Wizard of Oz” as something like: “This is the story of a girl named Dorothy who dreams she takes a flight to a place far from home and then comes back again,” how many judges would want to read the book? It sounds about as exciting as watching grass grow.
My friend Gregg’s novel, which, unlike mine, took him over ten years to write, is a fantasy about a young man who leaves home on an adventure and encounters everything from a flying child-stealing giant dog to shape-shifters, witches, a killer hog and a king. However, when he sent me his pitch and asked for my opinion, my first reaction was that it could put even someone who’d overdosed on caffeine to sleep.
His entire pitch was, “This is the story of a boy who can’t get along with his father so he leaves home to find his way in life.”
“You have to make your pitch sound a lot more exciting than that!” I told him. “How are the judges going to know that your book has all sorts of exciting characters and creatures in it?”
“Well, I don’t want to give away too much of the plot in advance,” he said. “I want them to be surprised.”
“They’ll be too busy snoring to be surprised,” I said. “Let me write up something to give you an example of what I think your pitch should be like.”
So I wrote him a pitch that made his main character sound like a combination of Harry Potter, James Bond and Indiana Jones all rolled into one.
I then went to work on writing the pitch for my own book. It took me hours to come up with something I finally was satisfied with because I knew it was my only chance to impress the judges. My story is a thriller about a woman who, just by looking at a person, can tell exactly when and how he or she will die. So I finally came up with what I thought was an interest-inducing first line for my pitch: “If it were possible to find out the exact date, time and way in which you were going to die, would you want to know?”
The problem with the contest is the organizers are anticipating about 10,000 entries. But I’m pretty sure about 9,000 of those will be eliminated on the pitch alone. From there, the contest first will be broken down into finalists, then quarter- finalists, followed by semi-finalists and top-ten finalists. After that, a group of online readers will give their input on the manuscripts. So I figure that by the time the final judging is over, I’ll be about 93 years old and the $50,000 grand prize probably won’t even be enough to pay for the gas to drive to the bank to cash the check.
Still, it should be interesting to see whether Gregg or I will make it to the finals. I think he may have a slight advantage over me, though. He’s 80 and has been writing ever since he was old enough to hold a pencil.
But if his book makes it and mine doesn’t, there will be no hard feelings. But I just might kick myself a few times for writing that pitch for him.