Friday, April 25, 2014


A few weeks ago, I wrote about how I had written a novel, a thriller, specifically to enter in a big novel-writing contest where the prizes ranged from $15,000 to $50,000. Well, I have been on a real roller-coaster ride ever since.

I had to submit three things for the contest – a 300-word pitch describing the book; an excerpt (the first 3,000-5,000 words of the book), and the book itself. The contest closed when the number of entries reached 10,000, so I knew I was in for a real challenge.

The first cut was going to be based on the pitch alone, where the judges would have to eliminate 8,000 entries based on whether or not the pitches intrigued them. Their decision was going to be announced on March 18.

The week before March 18, I tried not to think about the contest. I knew that only 2,000 entries were going to make it through on that day, and I kept telling myself I probably wasn’t going to be one of them. After all, I’d never written a thriller before and I knew my fiction-writing skills were lacking. I’d spent my life writing true stories (although, considering my crazy life, I’ve often been accused of writing fiction!), so fiction was something I hadn’t had much experience creating.

The night before the first cut of the contest, I started to get nervous. Would I make it to the next round? Would my pitch fail miserably? Would I end up using my manuscript to fuel a bonfire out in the yard?

At one minute past midnight on the 18th, I checked the contest website. The entries that had made it to the next round in each category were posted. The website said the authors’ names were listed alphabetically.

With trembling fingers, I scanned down to the “B” names. Mine wasn’t there. My heart sank.

“Oh, well,” I said, sighing, “I gave it my best shot.”

Then I happened to notice the names were listed alphabetically by the first names, not the last. Quickly, I scanned down to the “S” section. My name was there!  I jumped up and did a few happy-dance steps, even though my old bones sounded like creaky bedsprings.

Immediately, I posted my victory on Facebook for everyone to see. I wanted to share my success.

The next round was going to be based solely on the excerpts. In my case, it was the first 4,000 words of my book. I could have submitted up to 5,000 words, but I wanted to end my excerpt at an intriguing spot that would leave the judges hanging and hopefully, wanting more.  The results of that round were to be announced on April 14, and would reduce the remaining 2,000 entries to only 500. Those 500 would be the only ones who would have their entire books read by the judges.

The days between March 18 and April 14 crawled by. I was so eager to find out if my book was going to make it to the next round, I barely could concentrate on anything else. I forgot I was doing the laundry and left the wet clothes in the washer for two days. I called one of my friends and then called her again two hours later, forgetting I’d already spoken to her. I was a wreck.

Then I found out the contest judges had a forum online, where they vaguely discussed the excerpts they currently were reading. I became hooked on spying on their forum, hoping to get some clues.

“I read one excerpt today that was so bad, I couldn’t find anything good to say about it,” one judge said. “I think some of these contestants had professionals write their pitches for them, because their excerpts don’t match the quality of the pitches at all.”

I prayed he wasn’t talking about mine.

Another judge wrote, “The excerpt I read this morning was so good, I can’t wait to read the entire book. I definitely think it’s a big contender.”

I prayed he was talking about mine.

At one minute past midnight on the 14th, I checked the contest website. A notice said the results wouldn’t be posted until 3:00 that afternoon. Disappointed, I went to bed and tried to sleep, but I tossed and turned so much, the blankets ended up on the floor. I also kept thinking about what I’d do with all of the prize money if I did win. Everything from installing artificial grass in the yard, so I’d never have to mow it again, to paying off my credit card came to mind.

By the time I finally dozed off, it was about 10 in the morning. I slept until 4:00 that afternoon. The first thing I did when I woke up was rush to my computer to check the contest results. I barely could see because I still was half asleep, but the names were large enough for me to tell that mine wasn’t there. I was crushed.

Already, I was picturing what nice flames my book would produce when I used it for bonfire kindling.

Yesterday, I received feedback from two separate judges, who gave their reasons why they had decided not to move my book forward.

Both judges said my 4,000-word excerpt was written well, with good grammar, punctuation and descriptions. However, just from reading those few words, they said they could tell exactly where my plot was heading – that it was much too predictable. They then proceeded to tell me what they assumed was going to happen in the book.

As it turned out, every one of their assumptions was wrong. Not even one of the so-called “predictable” things they mentioned actually happens in my book.

So my book was cut for reasons that weren’t even valid. A part of me is pleased that my plot actually is nothing like they think it will be, because that means it’s not at all predictable.

Another part of me still wants to start that bonfire.

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