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. Congratulations, Mike! 

Paralith is a coming-of-age story that follows two brothers as they chase a set of powerful stones in an epic quest. Along the way, a sheltered teenager transforms into a confident young man, unraveling family mysteries and building new relationships that heal old wounds. Paralith is filled with fantastical symbolism and excellent character development. 

Mike Sieminksi lives in Westerville, Ohio, with his beautiful wife and wonderful six-year-old twins. Mike received degrees in communication and medical dietetics from The Ohio State University and is a registered, licensed dietitian. Mike knows that life is precious, and he looks for things to do that will make him a better person, whether at his job, with his family, or through his writing. 

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

Mike heard about The Great Novel Contest at the Columbus State Writers’ Conference and decided it was a fantastic opportunity to get his writing out into the world and gauge the quality of his work against that of other writers. Mike’s wife cheered him on and encouraged him to enter. 

Prior to entering The Great Novel Contest, Mike struggled to find someone to read his work and provide objective feedback. “Submitting my manuscript to agents requires me to find a perfect agent, and then make sure I summarize my 74,000-word book in a 200-word query letter, then pray the agent requests my manuscript. I liked that the OWA contest guaranteed a reading of each manuscript, giving each one a chance,” Mike said. 

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 by one of the big five publishers or a small press. If Mike is unable to find an agent, he plans to look into self-publishing. “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. Dream big, or don’t dream at all, right?”

Congratulations on the achievement of rising through the pool of manuscripts as a finalist. We wish Mike all the best in his publishing journey!

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.

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.

Central Ohio Workshop Open for Submissions November 18th

Get your work ready for the next workshop. We will be accepting submissions beginning on November 18th. This is a great opportunity to workshop a chapter in preparation for The Great Novel Contest 2020!

Come together with fellow writers and improve your craft. Have a question about the workshop? Send us an email at

The Great Novel Contest 2020

We are pleased to confirm the details for the Great Novel Contest 2020!

Learn more at

This year’s contest (our fifth year!) will revert to our original schedule, and offer the contest during the month of January. Mark your calendar for January 1 and get ready to submit!

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

Bellwether Publishing

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.

All 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.

You can also stay in the loop with news and reminders by joining the event on Facebook and marking yourself “going”:

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

We welcome new sponsors for this contest. If you would like to sponsor this event, please contact us at

Polish off your manuscript and get ready! Mark your calendar for January 1, 2020.

Get all of the details at

Submit Your Work for Zanesville, Ohio Workshop

Our next writers’ workshop (peer-critique) will be in Zanesville, Ohio on November 6, 2019.  If you’d like your work critiqued by the group, submit it now. All work must be received by Monday morning October 28th.

Submit your work by emailing it to  If you’re able, please convert your work to a PDF before sending it.

All of the work that is received and selected for the workshop will be posted to the members-only area of the website by the end of the day on October 28th so that everyone can download it and read it in advance of the workshop.

You may submit short stories, essays, novel chapters, poetry, or any other written work to the group for review.  Note that if your work is accepted for the workshop, we expect you to read and provide feedback to the other writers. If you submit, you must be present at the workshop on November 6th to receive feedback.

You are welcome to attend the workshop and provide feedback even if you have not submitted any work for review. This workshop is free. While you do need an OWA membership to download the work, it is free and easy to become a member by registering here.

We look forward to reading your work and seeing you on November 6th.

If you’re not able to submit and attend the workshop on the 6th, Writer members of OWA have 24/7 access to our online Writers’ Forum.

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!

Ready to improve your writing? Don’t miss our fall retreats!
Learn more here:

Writers’ Workshop on Wednesday, October 2nd

Our next workshop (peer critique) will be in Central Ohio on October 2nd at 7pm. Log into your free account to get the time and place details, as well as to download the stories we’ll be discussing.

You do NOT need to be a paid OWA member to attend the workshop and provide feedback to the writers who have submitted their work for review. This workshop is free and open to the public.