We asked Drew Farnsworth, winner of The Great Novel Contest 2013 to share some of his thoughts on the contest. As the winner, Drew was offered his choice of a publishing contract with Columbus Press, or $1,000 cash. Here’s what he had to say:
I have written several novels since my first, written at age five – ten chapters, a page and a half double spaced. Most were bad. Like a teen doing chores, I started submitting some of the books to agents, feeling like there was very little point to the exercise. As I got better I started to get a lot of, “This is very well written but you don’t have a platform,” which is basically like saying, “I don’t know who you are, so I’m not interested.” I also got a lot of, “This is not the right book for us right now,” which means, “Never speak to me again.” I ultimately decided that those books were not worth the effort because they would never sell more than a few copies. For some reason, I never submitted any of them to a contest.
Then I wrote a little book called Graham’s Charlotte. It made me happy. It was fun to write. Before I even put pen to paper, I had the entire thing mapped out in my head from beginning to end with all of the major act breaks and story beats arrayed across the fun little character arc of a shy girl in high school. I wrote the first draft quickly, in the span of about six months while working a full time job and preparing to get married.
Then I entered it into The Great Novel Contest. I had a vague expectation that I could get into the top ten, not because I would have the best novel in terms of artistic merit, but because Graham’s Charlotte had a perfect mixture of fun, verve, silliness and surprise. It’s a page turner, not an elegiac contemplation of the inscrutable nature of human experience. It’s written at a fifth grade reading level, not in an ultimately unfulfilling prose where each line harmonizes with the finest chords I could pluck from a heartstring.
Graham’s Charlotte won the contest. I was a little surprised, honestly, given the strength of the other finalists, many of whom were published authors with impressive resumes. There was definitely a sense of validation upon getting that email (and incidentally a cake), that told me that I won.
I wasn’t just a guy who’d sold a couple of short stories anymore. I’d won a novel contest. That was the moment when I realized that I was a professional writer. Instead of being an artist who could simply write words with the vague supposition that someone someday might want to read them, I suddenly had a responsibility to sell books.
So I decided to do just that. After some negotiation, I took the deal with Columbus Press. That was sort of a gamble on my part. The $1,000 prize is $1,000 today. A publishing contract with a small to mid-range publisher is a piece of paper. So I started to look into the industry a little bit more, started to understand more about how books are published, how long it takes to get them to market, how little time even big publishers put into a book. I decided that my best bet for a first novel was to work with Columbus Press where I would get some individual attention and where my book could become one of the flagship series in their repertoire.
And I’m here, almost a year later, with Graham’s Charlotte due out in the Spring. And it’s a good book. It has been edited and re-edited and made much better for the process. We’re putting together actual marketing for the book, not just the unstructured press releases that accompany many first novels. I’m getting real attention and significant investment in the property. Basically, we’re publishing the book that I’ve wanted to put out for years. I have the support that I’ve wanted for years. I’m working on the sequel. This contest has made a big difference for me. It’s not a world changer, but it’s a pretty big deal.
Drew Farnsworth is the winner of the The Great Novel Contest2013. His book, Graham’s Charlotte is due out in April from Columbus Press. It is the first book in the Mads Riley Series of Young Adult Novels. He’s also the co-writer of the popular online book, Capitol Offense, which can be viewed online for free, a chapter at a time, at CapitolOffenseBook.com. Drew was a contributor to the Forum Theater Production of A Greater Depression, which was recently performed in Washington DC.
Thank you Drew for sharing your experience. This year, the winner of The Great Novel Contest (more info here) will also be awarded his or her choice of $1,000 or a publishing contract with Columbus Press. This contest will be judged by NYC literary agent Terra Chalberg.