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.

Announcement — The Winner of The Great Novella Contest 2018

We are pleased to announce the winner of The Great Novella Contest 2018!  After our judges sorted through a multitude of submissions, publishing director Emily Hitchcock selected the Grand Champion.  Every manuscript submitted was reviewed by at least one judge.

The Busker by Brooks Rexroat is the Grand Champion of The Great Novella Contest 2018!  Congratulations, Brooks!

As champion, Brooks Rexroat will receive a publishing contract with Ragged Crow, imprint of the Ohio Writers’ Association.

Brooks Rexroat was raised near Cincinnati, Ohio at the intersection of the Rust Belt and Appalachia: the crossing point of mountain and farm field, boarded mine and shuttered factory, the water that splits north from south. The importance of place has always surrounded him, and it deeply inhabits his characters. His most recent publication is Thrift Store Coats (Orson’s Publishing, 2018).

You can learn more about Brooks’ published work and his travels here:

Thank you to everyone who submitted a novella manuscript to this year’s contest.  We opened this contest on a hunch that there were short manuscripts out there by writers worth publishing, and your submissions proved us right. As always, we are forever grateful that you trust us with your work.  Running a contest with integrity that presents legitimate opportunities is something that we take very seriously, and it wouldn’t be possible without the participation of so many fantastic writers.

A huge special thank you goes to Columbus Publishing Lab for sponsoring Columbus Publishing Labthis contest. Columbus Publishing Lab provides outstanding production and marketing work for small presses like OWA and Columbus Press, as well as individual authors around the country.  Learn more about Columbus Publishing Lab’s books and services here. 

Thank you to everyone who helped publicize and promote the contest, and to those who served as part of our judging committee.

Congratulations to Brooks Rexroat for this tremendous accomplishment.  Keep an eye out for The Busker in 2019.

Writers’ Seminar in Somerset, Ohio

twit_picI’ll be giving an extended seminar this Saturday from 10am to 2pm at the public library in Somerset, Ohio.  This event is sponsored by the Ohio Arts Council and is free to the public.  You must register before the event however, by emailing

I’ve been giving a lot of seminars over the past few years, and this will combine the most popular three.  Through the course of the day we’ll cover “Understanding the Publishing Industry” with a big picture look at the publishing paths available to authors, “The Five Key Steps to Publishing a Professional Book” with important information for anyone interested in self-publishing, and “Free and Easy Marketing Steps for All Authors” with an emphasis on pre-marketing, prior to publication.

Get all of the details on this release from AHOOT here.

I’ll also be joined by CCC member and debut author Christopher Stollar, who recently released The Black Lens following a successful crowdfunding campaign.  Christopher will be on hand to answer questions about the crowdfunding process and how to make it work.

This Saturday will be packed with real information for authors who want to take it to the next level.  It’s not for dreamers, and there are no sales pitches, if you want to be a published author, grab one of these seats.

You can also learn more from WHIZ news in Zanesville, Ohio:

The event will be sponsored by the Ohio Arts Council, coordinated by The Winding Road A to Z (a Southeastern Ohio artist’s organization) and hosted by AHOOT (Appalachian Hills of Ohio Territory – a regional arts organization).  Contact with questions.

Guest Post: R.K. Blessing on The Great Novel Contest

We recently had a chat The Great Novel Contest 2015with Columbus Publishing Lab author R.K. Blessing to get his perspective on The Great Novel Contest, and learn about his writing process. Check out his guest post below, and don’t forget to submit your novel to the contest before the January 31 deadline!

Find rules and instructions for entering The Great Novel Contest here.

It was brought to my attention that this month CCC would be hosting The Great Novel Contest. I was recently asked, what’s so great about The Great Novel Contest? Why do it? Well, here’s my answer.

Writing is difficult. It takes time and dedication, and for those of us who can get past those two humps, we then have to deal with the process of publication. For those who are sitting at home, staring blindly at the Internet and wondering what to do next, this contest offers a great opportunity to get yourself out there.

I completed two manuscripts before I published my first book, Clare R. They were goofy and clunky with poorly developed characters, but the inspiration I had to write Clare R. was incredible. I kept at it until finally a story started coming together that I thought was much more fun and well thought out.

If you keep an open mind, inspiration can come from all sorts of places. I had a lot of really awesome story ideas come about while traveling last year. One of my characters was born while I was traveling down south on an airplane.

Writing may not seem that hard, but the difficulty is in avoiding distractions. I find writing to be very therapeutic and so I make time for it, especially after a frustrating day at work. I get a kind of high after writing something that I hope will make people emotional.

So if you have an idea, get a move on and get writing. CCC hosts a great team of supportive folks who can answer questions along the way, and they want writers to be successful. You have two weeks to put something together. If you have been holding onto something, waiting for that right moment, here’s your chance!

Happy writing, folks, and GOOD LUCK!

-R.K. Blessing

R.K. Blessing is the author of the romantic comedy Clare R. (Proving Press, 2014). Find it on here. His second book is currently in production, and will be published by Boyle & Dalton in Spring, 2015.  

“For the Road” Anthology — Special Thanks

The release party last night was a great success! Thanks to everyone who came to support For the road cover2the anthology authors. For the Road is a fantastic book, and we owe its success to some talented, committed people. As we celebrate the release of our latest anthology, thanks are in order.

Get your copy of “For the Road” here.

Special thanks to the Columbus Publishing Lab team. Their editors and designers were invaluable in the production of this book. Columbus Publishing Lab provides professional publishing services to authors and small presses. CCC members save 5% on all a la carte services, and 10% on all self-publishing packages. Learn more about Columbus Publishing Lab here.

Thanks to Michelle Berki for her cover design work. Michelle did a great job creating a cover that reflects the dark stories in the book. See more of Michelle’s work here.

Last but not least, thanks to all of our members. It’s incredible to watch this community of readers and writers grow and support each other. Without you, none of this would be possible. Learn more about our memberships here.

We hope you enjoy For the Road!

Monthly Member News — October 2014

Each month we highlight the accomplishments of our Writer Member members and Sponsor members with our Monthly Member News. If you have news to share, email

The Abundant Bohemian by Joe Downing was recently published by Columbus Publishing Lab. Joe’s book is a guide to living an alternative lifestyle while still making  a living. Find The Abundant Bohemian here.

Nice work, Joe!

The Tales of Victor Coachman by Birney Reed was recently published by Bad Dream Entertainment. The book has been nominated for a Stoker Award in the short story collection category. Find The Tales of Victor Coachman here. 

Congratulations, Birney!

“Culling” (a vignette) by Heather Sinclair Shaw was recently published in Vine Leaves Literary Journal. You can read Heather’s story online here.

Great work, Heather!

Clare R. by Ryan Blessing was recently published by Columbus Publishing Lab. This debut romantic comedy tells the story of a chance meeting, and the love that develops afterward. Find Clare R. here. 

Congratulations, Ryan!

“Ezra’s Mission” by Janet Slike was recently published in The Screech Owl Magazine. Read Janet’s story online here.

Nice work, Janet!

If you’re not already a Writer Member, please consider registering or upgrading and supporting Columbus Creative Cooperative. Membership comes with a ton of great benefits in addition to supporting the events and resources CCC provides to writers.

Learn more about membership here.


Free Self-Publishing Handbook — This Week Only!

This week only, nab a free Kindle download of The Self-Publishing Handbook by Brad Pauquette. The newest release by Columbus Press, this e-book normally retails for $4.95.

Get your free download from here.

The self-publishing industry is huge. With so many choices, it can be hard to know which services are worthwhile, and which ones are a waste of time and money. The Self-Publishing Handbook is your guide to navigating the publishing process, no matter which route you choose. From hiring professionals, to D.I.Y. tips, this compact book separates worthwhile services from scams, and gets you on your way to producing an excellent book.

If you’re interested in navigating the self-publishing world, make sure you pick up a free copy of this handbook before Friday!


Self-Publishing Seminar — A Success!

Thanks to all the folks who came to our free self-publishing seminar last week. We had a great time speaking with everyone and answering questions about self-publishing.

If you missed the seminar but you’re still interested in learning about self-publishing, keep an eye on the Columbus Publishing Lab blog. They’ll be launching The Self-Publishing Handbook later this month as a resource for authors. The handbook will include all of the information we covered at our free seminar, and more.

If you’re interested in self-publishing we encourage you to check out our Community Partner, Columbus Publishing Lab. They’re a local self-publishing company based on transparency, affordability and quality.

Learn more about Columbus Publishing Lab here.

Free Self-Publishing Seminar Tonight

Have you ever wondered how books are produced?  Once a manuscript is finished, what exactly happens to it before it heads to the printer and then to store shelves?

I’ve been a consultant in the publishing industry for a while now, and I’d like to answer those questions for you.  There are five critical steps that every professionally published book must take before it goes to the printer.

At 7pm tonight, September 3, 2014, Columbus Creative Cooperative will host a free self-publishing seminar at our headquarters, 2997 Indianola Ave., Columbus, OH 43202 (in The Salt Mines).  This event is open to the public, you do NOT need to be a CCC member to come.

Find the event on Facebook here.

If you’re thinking about self-publishing, or even if you’re taking your book the traditional publishing route, this is invaluable information.

Readers judge books on a lot of different criteria.  It’s not just the words that are important, things like editing quality, design principles and even the feel of the pages impact how a reader evaluates your book.  The five steps we’ll discuss tonight will put your self-published book on a path to compete with its traditionally published counterparts.

I believe that self-publishing can be a legitimate path for an author.  But only if it’s done right.  The self-publishing industry is tarnished by lots of people (and self-publishing companies sadly enough) that aren’t committed to producing great books, or simply don’t know how.  Come out tonight to learn how to be one of the good guys.  Together we can raise the industry standard for self-published books, and further legitimize the endeavor for entrepreneurial authors everywhere.

This is a free seminar, and it is open to the public.  Come on out and get your learn on.