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. 

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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Do you have an unpublished manuscript that deserves recognition?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.

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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.  

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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 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.

The Great Novel Contest 2019: Jesse Bethea – Grand Champion Spotlight

Jesse Bethea won a publishing contract from Bellwether and infinite bragging rights for his unpublished manuscript, Fellow Travelers, as the grand champion of the Great Novel Contest 2019.

Learn more about the Great Novel Contest 2020.

Fellow Travelers follows the journey of Bindra Dhar, a young woman who, after being welcomed into the global community of professional time travelers, finds herself targeted by an enigmatic time criminal named Thurmond. As she discovers new allies and adversaries on her mission to stop Thurmond’s agenda — and to survive it — she learns that time travel is more dangerous and morally fraught than she ever could’ve expected. Fellow Travelers is a book about people who happen to be time travelers, their wants, their needs, their feelings, their fears, and their community.

Born and raised in Fairfax, VA, he fell in love with Ohio University’s Media Arts program and the scenic campus during a visit with family, so Jesse moved to Ohio to attend OU in 2010. Jesse loved his time there so much that Alden Library was an important location in his novel Fellow Travelers.

In 2014, Jesse moved to Columbus and immediately started writing for By 2015, he was working for The Ohio Channel (Ohio’s version of C-SPAN) as an assistant producer.

On the rare occasions when Jesse gives himself a break from writing, he enjoys hiking, true crime podcasts and reading, specifically non-fiction disaster/survival narratives. According to Jesse, “any situation where people have had to eat each other, I’m in.”

Jesse was encouraged in his literary abilities at an early age. He came from a family of readers and librarians who didn’t limit his reading or potential, a family who gave him “all the notebooks and pens and pencils” he could ask for.

He found inspiration to write as a child from Maniac Magee by Jerry Spinelli and Hoot by Carl Hiaasen. These books are “both partially about exploring hidden worlds and characters on the fringes of everyday life.” He was also influenced by The Power of Un, a book that led to his “lifelong subconscious obsession with time travel and its implications.”

These early interests in time travel and adventure culminated in Fellow Travelers, a world where moments in time provide a map the mind can travel.

Jesse had a great team in his corner during the writing and editing of Fellow Travelers. “My biggest supporter was definitely my wife Melissa, a voracious fantasy reader who encouraged me to keep going by reading every chapter in about fifteen minutes and then demanding a new one. She even made a hardcover version of the book for my birthday. My dear friends Nikki Lanka and Emily Sirney read early drafts and give some essential feedback. My best friend Haylee Pearl helped immensely by quizzing me on the rules of the time travel world and community.”

When it comes to writing advice, Jesse knows the writing process is different for different people, but he does have a piece of advice for those who listen to music when they write. “If you’re going to listen to music while you’re writing, which I find helps me focus, make sure you don’t listen to music with lyrics. That will, generally speaking, break your focus and defeat the purpose. Listen to instrumental music only. Or music with singing in another language. My go-to playlist on Fellow Travelers was the album “Ball of Fire” by the Skatalites — totally instrumental, very assertive, insistent ska music. It felt like the horn section was scolding me whenever I wasn’t typing.”

Fellow Travelers found a home with Bellwether thanks to Jesse’s superb writing skills and the Ohio Writers’ Association’s novel contest. This wasn’t the first contest Jesse entered with Ohio Writers’ Association. He submitted to the Great Novella Contest in 2018. When he heard about The Great Novel Contest 2019, he took a shot. All his hard work paid off. Jesse’s manuscript is now on its way to being a published novel.

Stay tuned for updates and announcements on publication from Bellwether. Fellow Travelers will hit shelves worldwide in the summer of 2020.

Do you have an unpublished manuscript that deserves recognition?
Check out The Great Novel Contest 2020 and get ready to submit.

Winners of The Great Novel Contest 2019

We had so many amazing submissions to The Great Novel Contest 2019. Thank you to everyone who submitted your work.

Find our full list of Finalists here.

With so many great submissions, our judges took their time to pick this year’s winner. In the end, the decision was unanimous:

Fellow Travelers by Jesse Bethea is the Grand Prize Winner of The Great Novel Contest 2019!

From one of our judges: “Fellow Travelers is a fast-paced trip through time and into a world where everything has happened, is happening, and will happen. This science fiction tale combines world building and clever characters to craft a story that will keep readers engaged until the end. Amazing manuscript!”

Congratulations Jesse! You’ve won a publishing contract with Bellwether, the publishing imprint of the Ohio Writers’ Association, as well as $3,000 in author development services from Columbus Publishing Lab.

We can’t wait to see Fellow Travelers in print!

Thank you to Columbus Publishing Lab for sponsoring this contest and making it possible. Columbus Publishing Lab provides publication and marketing services for authors and small presses. They help self-publishers make smart decisions and see a return on their investment. Learn more at

Columbus Publishing Lab

Becoming Nora by Margaret Kirby is the official Runner-up of The Great Novel Contest 2019!

From one of our 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.”

Congratulations, Margaret! You’ve won $1,000 of services from Columbus Publishing Lab, to be used as you see fit!

The remaining eight finalists will receive a letter of recommendation for agents and publishers, as well as a publishing consultation from Brad Pauquette.

All submissions were judged “blind”—no names, history, demographics, or identifying information was shared with the judges.

Learn more about The Great Novel Contest here, and mark your calendar for next year!

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Announcing Finalists: The Great Novel Contest 2019

This year’s The Great Novel Contest was inundated with exceptional submissions. After much hand-wringing, we’re pleased to announce The Great Novel Contest 2019 finalists!

This contest was open to manuscripts of 50,000-125,000 words, in all genres except for children’s books and erotica. Learn more about the 2020 Great Novel Contest here and mark your calendars for January 1.

Judges considered a variety of factors when choosing finalists, including organization, style, viability of concept, and prose quality.  All submissions were judged “blind”—no names, history, demographics, or identifying information was shared with the judges.

This contest is sponsored by Columbus Publishing Lab, an outstanding company which provides publication and marketing services to authors and small presses. Learn more at

Columbus Publishing Lab

These finalists are presented in a randomized order:

White Oaks by Jordan King

Fellow Travelers by Jesse Bethea

The Thin Red Jellies Within by Bill Hughes

Breach of the Covenant by Steven Hiller

Paralith by Mike Sieminski

Museum of an Extinct Race by Jonathan Rosen

Earth 2.0 by Shannon Ferretti

A Principle of Light by Janet Irvin

Unfollowers by Leigh Ann Ruggiero

Becoming Nora by Margaret Kirby

These ten finalists will receive further consideration. One of these manuscripts will win a publishing contract with Bellwether, as well as $3,000 in author development services from Columbus Publishing Lab.  The winner will be a published author with the platform to prove it.

One runner-up will win $1,000 in author development services from Columbus Publishing Lab.

The remaining finalists will receive a publishing consultation, as well as a letter of recommendation to publishers and agents.

While the following four titles were not selected as finalists, our judges felt that they deserve recognition for the quality of their work.

Inherent Lies by Alicia Anthony
The Magdalenes by Jeanne Skartsiaris
Girl on the Edge by Kirby Nielsen
Longshot by Jerina Pieri

Thank you to all of the authors who entered The Great Novel Contest 2019.  While only a limited number of manuscripts could be selected as finalists, we were overwhelmed with the quality of the submissions that we received this year.

Thank you again to Columbus Publishing Lab for sponsoring this contest. Please visit to learn more about their services.

Learn more about The Great Novel Contest at Don’t forget to mark your calendar for next year!

Don’t miss our fall retreats! Learn more here:

The Great Novel Contest 2019: Judges Be Judgin’

The judging period for The Great Novel Contest is underway!

A special team of handpicked judges is hard at work reading novels. The winning novel could be in front of a judge RIGHT NOW.

We know it’s tempting to email and ask for an update on your submission, but we ask that you respect the time of our volunteers and wait for our official announcement. We will announce the winner, runner-up and finalists soon. No updates will be given before that time.

Thank you to everyone who submitted a manuscript to this contest. So far, we’ve been very pleased by the quality of the books our judges are reviewing.

The Great Novel Contest: Now or Never

This is your shot.

Last-chance warning! You have less than 72 hours to submit a novel to The Great Novel Contest 2019. The hard and fast submission deadline is this Friday, May 31st at 11:59 p.m.  Someone is going to land a publishing contract, but it won’t be you if you miss this deadline!

Find the contest rules and instructions for entering here.

The grand prize winner will receive a publishing offer from Bellwether, OWA’s Publishing Imprint, and $3,000 in credit for author development services from Columbus Publishing Lab, as well as public recognition of the achievement.

The runner-up will receive $1,000 in credit for author development services, as well as recognition for the achievement!

“One of the advantages of publishing with a small or mid-size press is that an author can find someone that’s really a good fit. Your book doesn’t just make sense on a spreadsheet, but it’s something the publisher can really get excited about and roll with month after month.”

–Brad Pauquette, President of the Ohio Writers’ Association

What’s the holdup? Submit your novel to The Great Novel Contest before it’s too late. Click here for contest rules and instructions for entering.

May the best manuscript win!