The Great Novel Contest 2019 Finalist Spotlights – Steven Hiller

Steven Hiller, with his manuscript Breach of the Covenant, is another finalist for The Great Novelist Contest 2019. 

Still haven’t entered The Great Novel Contest 2020? You can do that here!

Steven graduated with his bachelor’s from Urbana University and earned his Master of Arts in Creative Writing and English degree from Southern New Hampshire University in 2014. Now he works as an English Professor at the University of Northwestern Ohio. When he’s not grading papers or jotting down the next chapter of his story, he’s often found playing a relaxing game of chess.  

The Breach of the Covenant takes an imaginative spin on the story of Adam and Eve, where the Forbidden Fruit didn’t just make them intelligent: it gave them access to all of God’s knowledge. In the wake of the chaos that followed, a small species was created by mistake. Now, this race must limit humanity’s knowledge and prevent humans from learning what they already know.

Some of Steven’s favorite books include The Chocolate War, Arrow in the Sun, and works by Dr. Suess, Steinbeck, and Shakespeare. If you’re interested in learning craft, he swears by The Elements of Style by Strunk and White and East of Eden by Steinbeck. 

A good support group is key to writing, and Steven has his wife and son to encourage him. After Steven was announced as a finalist “more people have started to believe in [his] writing.” 

Observation and persistence are two other qualities that Steven recommends to anyone who has a hard time finishing their novel. He also suggests that “you must pay attention to what is around you…writing is not something done on occasion; it is a laborious task like a marathon.”

Steven discovered Ohio Writers’ Association and The Great Novel Contest 2020 through Facebook. As someone who’s entered multiple writing contests in the past, he knows that it’s worth submitting. “The worst answer is no, and I hear that often enough,” he said. 

Steven hopes to be published by a traditional publishing house someday, and he continues to be a prolific writer. His psychological drama Screaming in Silence was shortlisted for the 2016 William Wise-William Faulkner Contest, and he’s already completed a sequel to Breach of the Covenant.

Do you have an unpublished manuscript that deserves recognition?

The Great Novel Contest 2020 is open now! Click here to submit your manuscript.

Not quite ready to submit a piece?

Check out some of our upcoming events, classes, and workshops!

The Great Novel Contest 2020 Ten-Day Update

The Great Novel Contest 2020 has been live for ten days! Have you submitted a manuscript yet? 

If not, you’re missing out on a chance to win $1,000 and a publishing contract from Bellwether. That dream of getting your book published might be a lot closer than you think.

Click here to submit your novel.

There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.”

Maya Angelou

The runner up will receive $500, a letter of recommendation to publishers and agents, and a publishing consultation session with OWA President and publishing expert Brad Pauquette.

The top ten finalists will be featured in a Finalist Spotlight post and receive a $50 OWA gift card for writing courses.

Not sure if your manuscript is a good fit? Check out the rules and guidelines here.

This is a fantastic opportunity for writers everywhere, whether this manuscript is your first or fifth. Don’t pass up this chance to submit your novel, win cash, and get published!

If you have any additional questions about the contest, you can contact a helpful OWA member at

If you have a great idea but haven’t finished writing yet, check out some of our novel-writing courses and workshops.

Great Novel Contest 2019: Bill Hughes – Finalist Spotlight

Bill Hughes is one of the top ten finalists of The Great Novel Contest 2019 for his thought-provoking manuscript, The Thin Red Jellies Within.

The Great Novel Contest 2020 is here! Check out the details.

Bill earned a Bachelor’s and Master’s degree in English from Ohio State, and he currently lives in the Columbus area with his wife and son. During his free time, he enjoys reading nineteenth-century novels, Samuel Beckett, pulp crime fiction, and watching cheap horror movies.

He’s published multiple stories in a variety of magazines such as The Edge, The Pedestal, Byzarium, and Page and Spine.  After being an editor for the small-press magazine Dread, he took a fifteen-year hiatus from the writing and publishing world, and he feels like he’s “starting from scratch.” The Thin Red Jellies Within is his first novel-length project and marks his return to writing.

The Thin Red Jellies Within walks the line between genres as a man tries his best to handle the bizarre new life he’s handed after his wife disappears. She’s eventually finally found, but something feels off about her. Is this really the person he fell in love with?

The Thin Red Jellies Within is a mystery, one that questions identity and the limits of reason viewed through the prism of historic Ohio.

One of Bill’s earliest writing inspirations was the Hardy Boys series, and he wrote a story about them in the fourth grade. Now he’s influenced by works such as Sister Carrie and American Tragedy by Theodore Dreiser, Huck Finn, Joe R. Lansdale’s A fine Dark Line, Gifune’s Deep Night, Little Girl Lost and Songs of Innocence by Richard Aleas, and Tremblay’s The Cabin at the End of the World. He also recommends reading the works of Henry James, Jim Thompson, and any of Richard Wright’s works — especially American Hunger.

Persistence was key to finishing The Thin Red Jellies Within, and Bill believes that persistence is most important for anyone struggling to finish a novel. After his long hiatus, Bill is building up his writing support group. “I’m just starting to share work with people and build new relationships.”

Bill is a long-standing member of OWA, and he spotted the The Great Novel Contest 2019’s announcement on the website. At first, he felt unsure about submitting, but then he thought: “What the heck. OWA is a very supportive organization, and I’ve always gotten good feedback when I’ve participated in their workshops. I felt that something positive would come of it.”

To Bill, the ideal situation would be finding a good editor who enjoys his writing style and building a relationship with them. He will continue submitting The Thin Red Jellies Within to small-press editors in hopes that the manuscript will find a good home in the future.

Do you have an unpublished manuscript that deserves recognition?

The Great Novel Contest 2020 is open now! Click here to submit your manuscript.

Not quite ready to submit a piece?

Check out some of our upcoming events, classes, and workshops!

The Great Novel Contest 2019: Leigh Ann Ruggiero – Finalist

Leigh Ann Ruggiero won her spot as a finalist in The Great Novel Contest 2019 for her fantastic manuscript, Unfollowers.

The Great Novel Contest 2020 has arrived! Check out the details here.

Unfollowers follows Barb Matheson, who doesn’t fit in: not on the Standing Rock Reservation where her mother was born; not on the Ethiopian mission where she grew up; not at the Midwestern college where she studies literature; and not at the church in Bethel, Pennsylvania, where her husband preaches. While celebrating her fifth anniversary, she stumbles upon Declan, her first love, the one who whispered his dark secret into her ear so many years ago. And now he’s invited her and her husband to visit Ethiopia as missionaries.

Unfollowers is a tale of religious angst, unrequited love, and the upheaval of racial and economic privilege.

Picture of author Leigh Ann Ruggiero
Photo credit: Ali Winberry

Leigh Ann studied under Maud Casey at the University of Maryland where earned an MFA in fiction. She obtained her BA in English from Wheaton College, which is “best known as the school from which Billy Graham graduated and Wes Craven dropped out.”

Now she teaches college courses herself as a professor of literature and writing at a school “smack in the middle of Montana.” Most days, she can be found musing on story structure, music theory, and a variety of fandoms of which she is “alternately proud and embarrassed to be a member.” Whenever she’s not buckling down on grading “which is awful” or writing “which is wonderful,” she often watches theater with her partner.

To Leigh Ann, her partner “is by far the most important cheerleader, not to mention person, in my life.” Several important phrases and terms made it into Unfollowers “only at [my partner’s] suggestion.” Leigh Ann’s parents, friends, and colleagues also support her, sometimes in person and other times through online group chats.

As a writing professor, she has some substantial advice to give for anyone who is struggling to finish a writing project. “You have to give yourself time,” she says. “Time is the difference between half-baked writing and writing from which the toothpick comes out clean.”

Leigh Ann grew up reading adventure books, especially the works of Lloyd Alexander. Now she finds inspiration in Jonathan Franzen, Jonathan Foer, Chelsey Johnson, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, and Rainbow Rowell. She also loves the poetry of Tommy Pico and graphic novels by Craig Thompson.

For anyone interested in studying the craft of writing, she recommends several books. For short stories, read the Complete Stories collection of Flannery O’Connor and Amy Hempel’s Collected Stories. For novels, look at the works of Thomas Hardy, especially his underrated book Woodlanders. Regardless of format, Leigh Ann believes everyone should read Claudia Rankine’s Citizen, which is an “exquisitely human” book.

Leigh Ann discovered The Great Novel Contest 2019 through Submittable, a useful website for writers that collates publishing opportunities and organizes them by deadline. After growing up near the Ohio border in Pennsylvania, Leigh Ann had a sense of nostalgia as she looked into the contest.

Leigh Ann believes that ideal publishing involves an honest collaboration between the writer and publisher, and she is happy to see that The Great Novel Contest is “interested in promoting writers, rather than just pitting them against each other.” Leigh Ann won’t give up until she finds the right home for Unfollowers, whether it passes through the hands of an agent or goes straight to a publisher.

Be on the lookout for Unfollowers and more stories by Leigh Ann in the future.  

Trying to find a home for your book manuscript?

Check out The Great Novel Contest 2020

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The Great Novel Contest: Open for Submissions Now!

The Great Novel Contest is officially open for submissions! Submit your manuscript here.

This year’s winner will take home a publishing contract with Bellwether and $1,000 cash!

Our runner-up will receive $500 cash, a publishing consultation with OWA President and publishing expert Brad Pauquette, and a letter of recommendation for agents and publishers.

Ten finalists will receive public recognition for their achievement, as well as a $50 voucher to take an OWA class in 2020.

This contest is open to all previously unpublished manuscripts, with the exception of children’s books and erotica. Manuscripts must be between 50,000 and 125,000 words in length.

Read the contest rules and find instructions for entering here.

This is your chance to be discovered. (And the cash is nice too.) Submit your novel to The Great Novel Contest 2020 here.

May the best novel win!

Questions about the contest? Contact a helpful OWA volunteer at

The Great Novel Contest 2020 is sponsored by Columbus Publishing Lab, which provides production, marketing, and consultation for small presses and self-publishers. Learn more at

Columbus Publishing Lab

The Great Novel Contest 2019: Shannon Ferretti — Finalist

Shannon Ferretti earned her spot as one of the top ten finalists in the Great Novel Contest 2019 for her exceptional manuscript, Earth 2.0.

The Great Novel Contest Returns on January 1, 2020! Get the details here.

Earth 2.0 centers on Kit, a girl who grew up in the City, Earth’s last civilization, surrounded by protective walls after the nuclear fallout from World War III. Believing in a future free of nuclear waste, Kit is willing to give up her life to the City so future generations can safely reclaim Earth and live outside the walls—until she discovers that the City is a lie. Now on the run from the society she grew up in, Kit must escape the City’s grasp and join the rebellion if she has any hope of learning the truth.

Shannon makes time to write “way too early” in the morning before working as a business systems analyst for library software. When she’s not at her day job or writing, you can find her wearing all black, avoiding small talk, spoiling her dogs, and reading in a cozy space filled with lit candles.

After skating through high school, Shannon attended Columbus State Community College and enrolled herself in every offered writing class while finishing her Associate of Arts degree.

She cites The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy as a huge influence on her drive to write. “I read it over and over again during some dark times, and reading even just a few pages always distracted me and brought me away to another place,” she said. “I want to be able to give that back.”

She also looks to the Harry Potter series for inspiration and writing tips, specifically how “J.K. Rowling seamlessly weaves her plotlines and always keeps the story moving, with enough clues for the casual reader to stay with the story over thousands of pages.” For anyone trying to improve their craft, Shannon swears by Stephen King’s On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft.

To keep herself motivated, she connects with fellow writers on Twitter through #WriteFightGIFClub. “They’re just the most supportive, enthusiastic group, full of cheesy inside jokes and well-timed GIFs. They’ve been there for me in times of doubt and kept me going.”

As for writing advice, Shannon knows that there’s no one-size-fits-all approach. “Experiment with your writing process until you find one that works for you. Don’t force yourself to use someone else’s process and tell yourself you suck because it doesn’t work.”

Shannon discovered the Great Novel Contest 2019 through OWA’s email newsletter. She loved the idea of an Ohio-based contest, so she submitted the Earth 2.0 manuscript, which was “just sitting around on an extended rest” at the time.

She dreams of being published by one of the big publishing houses and spotting her name on the shelves at Barnes & Noble. To reach that goal, submitting Earth 2.0 felt like an easy choice. “I truly believe getting an acceptance is a numbers game,” she said. “The more you submit, the better odds you have, so submitting here [OWA] felt like a step along the path to publication.”

Keep an eye out for Shannon Ferretti and her novel, Earth 2.0.

Do you have an unpublished manuscript that deserves recognition?

Check out The Great Novel Contest 2020 and get ready to submit.

Not quite ready to submit a piece?

Check out some of our upcoming events, classes, and workshops!

The Great Novel Contest: Submission Checklist

We’re just eight days away from the start of The Great Novel Contest 2020!

Find prize information, submission guidelines, and our FAQ here.

Our submission form will open on January 1, 2020. Submissions will close on January 31, 2020. We reserve the right to close the contest early if we receive more submissions than our team can responsibly judge. Be ready to submit early rather than late!

The winner of this year’s contest will take home $1,000 in cash money, as well as a publishing contract from Bellwether, a publishing imprint of the Ohio Writers’ Association.

One runner-up will receive $500 cash, a publishing consultation with OWA President and publishing expert Brad Pauquette, and a letter of recommendation for agents and publishers.

Whether the contest has been on your radar for months or you’re just now hearing about it, here’s a simple checklist to make sure you’ve got your manuscript ready and your mind right to get that prize money.

  • Edit your manuscript now. This deadline waits for nobody. Take the remaining time before the contest starts to edit, polish, spit-shine, hem up plot holes, beef up your characters–whatever you have to do to get your manuscript ready for the judges. Somewhere, another future entrant is putting in the work. Don’t let procrastination cost you your shot at winning.
  • Review the submission guidelines, frequently asked questions, and prizes on the contest page here: Ask any lingering questions to an OWA administrator directly by emailing When you’ve finished educating yourself, bookmark the page so you can come back and submit your manuscript on January 1.
  • Plan how you’re going to laud your victory over your friends, enemies, and casual Facebook acquaintances. Also plan to spend your prize money on something totally ridiculous. Themed riverboat cruise. Discount taxidermy. A banana taped to a wall (fine art). Have your first draft bronzed. You’re a writer. You’ll think of something wild.

Submissions open January 1. Mark your calendars, or join the Facebook event here to stay in the loop as the submission period gets underway.

This is the fifth year we’ve held this contest, and each year exceptional manuscripts rise from the pool across all genres. Will this be the year you’re discovered? 

Questions about the contest? Contact us directly at

The Great Novel Contest 2019: Mike Sieminski — Finalist

Mike Sieminksi’s fantasy novel Paralith was one of the top ten finalists in The Great Novel Contest 2019.

The Great Novel Contest 2020 is live! Find the details here.

Paralith is a coming-of-age story that follows two brothers as they seek a set of powerful stones on an epic quest. Along the way, they’ll encounter new allies, confront old wounds, and start to unravel a long-held family mystery. Paralith combines the fantastical with the growth of a sheltered teenager into a young man.

Mike Sieminksi lives in Westerville, Ohio, with his beautiful wife and wonderful six-year-old twins. He is a licensed dietitian with degrees in medical dietetics and communication from The Ohio State University. Mike knows that life is precious, so he’s always looking for ways to better himself whether it is at his job, with his family, or through his writing. 

As a kid, Mike didn’t like to read unless it was a Dungeons and Dragons manual, but he always knew that he wanted to write a book. As an adult, Mike finds inspiration in Harry Potter. He also enjoys classic stories by Isaac Asimov, H. G. Wells, Ray Bradbury, Lovecraft, and Stephen King. He encourages writers to read things that inspire them. 

Mike heard about The Great Novel Contest during the Columbus State Writers’ Conference and decided it was a fantastic opportunity to get his writing out into the world. With the support of his wife

Prior to entering The Great Novel Contest, Mike struggled to find someone to read his work and provide objective feedback. Traditional publishing required him to summarize his 74,000-word book in a 200-word query letter, and then hope the agent requests the manuscript. “I liked that the OWA contest guaranteed a reading of each manuscript, giving each one a chance,” Mike said. He also thought it was a great chance to gauge the quality of his writing against other writers.

If you are struggling to complete your novel, Mike has some advice. “Don’t think. Write. Sometimes the brain can interfere with your writing. Let your hands and fingers be the unfiltered translators of your brain’s deep, dark thoughts. Also, enjoy it. If you don’t enjoy what you’re writing, stop.”

Mike is currently querying agents and publishers in hopes of being published. “I’ve always envisioned my book being sold at Barnes & Noble, featured on the bestseller rack as you walk in the store, then made into a blockbuster movie.” He is open to self-publishing and plans to look into it in the future if the traditional publishing route doesn’t work out.

We’d love to read your manuscripts! Submit them to The Great Novel Contest 2020 for a chance to win $1,000 and a publishing contract with Bellwether.

Still need to polish your manuscript? Check out some of our writing classes and workshops!

The Great Novel Contest: One Month Away!

The day after Thanksgiving is a recovery day. Sleep off your food coma while you’re “working” from home, have a shopping induced mental breakdown before noon, start looking at leftover turkey smoothie recipes, tape black paper over your windows to avoid your neighbor’s Christmas light display.

Since you’re sitting there in the dark anyway, now’s the perfect time to pull up your word processor and get your novel ready for The Great Novel Contest.

The contest opens in one month on January 1, 2020. Submissions will only be accepted through January 31.

Find contest details and submission guidelines here.

“You have plenty of time,” your Netflix account whispers.  

Procrastinate and you risk missing your shot at a publishing contract with Bellwether and $1,000 in cash—this year’s grand prize. One runner-up will receive $500 in cash, a publishing consultation, and a letter of recommendation for agents and publishers.

Now’s the time to finish writing and tinkering and start editing if you want your manuscript to be contest-ready by January. Every year we have authors who try to finish last-minute what they should have completed before January 1. (If your book ends suddenly with a natural disaster, we WILL know that you ran out of time.) There are no extensions!

Brush those pumpkin pie crumbs off your laptop. Edit like a fiend. Submit a manuscript on January 1. Win the contest. Spend your prize money. Get published.

To stay in the loop about the contest as we gear up for the submission period, join our Facebook event here.

Questions about the contest? Contact us:

Thanks to Columbus Publishing Lab for sponsoring this year’s contest! CPL provides high-quality publishing services to authors and small presses. Learn more about Columbus Publishing Lab here:

Columbus Publishing Lab

The Great Novel Contest 2019: Margaret Kirby — Runner-Up

Margaret Kirby earned the title of Runner-Up in The Great Novel Contest 2019 with her novel Becoming Nora.

Congratulations to Margaret Kirby for a well-crafted character-driven novel!

Learn more about The Great Novel Contest 2020 here.

Becoming Nora explores what happens when a seemingly ordinary and happy life spirals off on a different trajectory. After eighteen years of marriage and two children, Nora’s husband tells her he is unhappy and wants a separation. Nora’s journey through loss, fear, and uncertainty leads to freedom and self-awareness as she comes to recognize the constrictions in her marriage that she once accepted as normal.

From one of the contest judges: “Becoming Nora explores the intricacies and complexities of relationships. Through tight prose and exceptional character development, Margaret Kirby reveals how closely our identities are entwined with those we care about the most.”

Margaret retired in 2012 after working for thirty years for an organization that provides services to the homeless. And although she regularly did technical writing and editing throughout her professional career, it wasn’t until after retirement that she began to invest serious time and energy into pursuing creative writing. 

Margaret joined the Rehoboth Beach Writers’ Guild and found a great support person in Maribeth Fischer, Executive Director of the Rehoboth Beach Writer’s Guild. It was through that mentorship that Margaret learned about The Great Novel Contest. 

At first, she didn’t know if the contest would be a good fit for her novel, but she thought it sounded like an interesting opportunity. She took a chance and submitted. Margaret was awarded $1,000 in credit with Columbus Publishing Lab for author development services. She now plans to use the contest credentials and author services from Columbus Publishing Lab to pursue literary agents and publishers.  

Great novels come easier with great support. Margaret has been supported throughout her writing journey by her daughter, Katherine, who patiently read her novel and the subsequent revisions. She was also cheered and supported by her husband, fellow writers from novel classes, and good friends. 

When Margaret isn’t creating her own stories, she likes to read a variety of genres and authors. She reads fiction and nonfiction, memoirs, poetry, and anything that inspires her own creativity. She has Joan Didion, Wallace Stegner, Anne Tyler, Colm Toibin, Flannery O’Connor, and Thomas Merton on her shelves at home. She loves reading, writing, and watching her grandchildren grow up.

Margaret has advice for writers out there who are struggling to finish their novels: Learn more about your characters as you revise—go deeper each time. Try to write every day, if only for ten minutes, and be patient with yourself when you can’t get into the flow. Read poetry and writing that inspires you. Attend workshops. But above all, be patient with yourself.

Margaret would love to see Becoming Nora published someday. She is querying agents and exploring small presses. Best of luck to you, Margaret, and congratulations!

The Great Novel Contest is back for 2020! Think your work might be a good fit for our contest? Learn more about The Great Novel Contest 2020 here.