Category: writing contest

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Last month, we challenged our young writers (18 and under) to submit a 300-word story involving a balloon. From over 1,100 fabulous entries, we chose two Grand Prize Winners and eight Honorable Mentions. We hope you enjoy reading them as much as we did!

14-18 Division Honorable Mentions:

  • The Cat and the Thing" by Wafaa L. — “The cat was on high alert. Ears pricked, eyes wide, body tense. It watched suspiciously as the round, strange thing floated in the air a few feet in front of him. It was dangerous – he could smell it…” Read the rest!
  • “Golden Dawn” by Yuchi Z. — “Venus’s scarred, tortured surface passed beneath Manuel’s gaze as the balloon gained altitude. The domed city of Jardines Ishtar, gleaming bright in the fiery sun, became faint on the horizon…” Read the rest!

  • “Center of the Universe” by Maneesh J. — “The astronauts looked out from the window of their spaceship at the bloodred world below them. All but one. While the others stared at Mars, their future home, one astronaut was gazing further…” Read the rest!

11-13 Division Honorable Mentions:

  • “A Balloon of Nightmares” by Ally N. — “The balloon is the color of midnight. This fits because this balloon in particular is not a happy balloon. It is rumored to hold all the evils and sorrows of this world…” Read the rest!

  • “The Balloon Festival” by Logan M. — “I release the balloon into the air, and see hundreds of others doing the same. I watch my balloon float up, a blue dot against the sea of red. People gasp and point at the abnormal balloon color…” Read the rest!

10 and Under Division Honorable Mentions:

  • “Silver Lily” by Iris D. — “IN THE SMALL MARKETPLACE of Shellkey, there was a silver balloon tied to a stake. No one knew how the balloon had never deflated, but it didn’t matter. The oddest thing about the balloon was that it had a girl in it…” Read the rest!
  • “Travel” by Gabrielle G. — “An old, gray dog was striding along a dusty road in the middle of a field. He was wondering about whether or not the old lady who lived down the road would give him some of her food…” Read the rest!
  • “The Time Balloon” by Leia F. — “The balloon was pink and shiny, like a wad of bubblegum. Mikayla loved blowing it up just a little, so her mom, a dentist, would freak out, thinking Mikayla was chewing gum…” Read the rest!

Last month, we challenged our young writers (18 and under) to submit a 300-word story involving a balloon. From over 1,100 fabulous entries, we chose two Grand Prize Winners and eight Honorable Mentions. We hope you enjoy reading them as much as we did!

“The Sacrifice” by Miriam G. — Grand Prize Winner (13 and Under Division)

Red to catch the dragon’s eye, the balloon floated away from the cliff. Shana struggled against her bonds, searching for the small knife she kept hidden in her sleeve as the balloon carried her farther into the sky. Below, her former tribesmen watched her float off. A sacrifice for the dragon. Some tribemates.

The knife slipped free, and Shana twisted, taking it in her bound hands. She sawed awkwardly at the rope. Dragon’s Mountain loomed closer, its two peaks spreading like bat’s wings.

Or dragon’s wings.

A perfect place for a dragon to live.

Finally the blade bit into the rope. Shana dragged at it, cutting into the fibers. She felt one break, snapping against her wrist as it did so. Others came after, quicker.

And still the balloon floated onwards.

The last fiber cracked apart, and Shana pulled her hands free from the rope. She bent to her feet and slashed the knife across the bonds.

She glanced up and could now see the dark hole of the dragon’s lair. The winds were perfect, pushing the red balloon closer and closer. Ever closer.

At last her feet were free. Shana stood and grabbed at the ropes attaching the basket to the balloon. Could she climb to the flame that kept her aloft, and blow it out? But the fire was too sheltered. She glanced down. Burnt, barren land, dotted with rivers of lava, changed to sharp craggy rock.

Something rumbled. Shana looked up. The dragon had emerged.

Black, massive, it spread its wings and loomed up. Stained teeth glinted as it lunged.

And Shana jumped. A desperate leap for freedom. She landed hard, heard snapping, felt pain. The rock scraped her. But she stumbled up and ran despite the agony. She would not be a dragon’s lunch.


Special guest judge Claire Kann had this to say about “The Sacrifice”:The tension in this story was spectacular! I loved the sparse but effective world-building, the sharp, clean prose, and the compelling imagery. The main character, Shana, was daring, scrappy, and resourceful—my favorite kind of protagonist.”


Miriam G. loves horses, cats, and randomly starting novels that will never have more than a chapter written of them. She is guilty of Writing Way Too Much About Dragons, and nearly everything she writes must include a dragon or it usually doesn’t amount to much. Additionally, she’s diagnosed with Adding Horses for No Particular Reason. Luckily, cats have managed to escape this horrible habit, partially because she lives with the sweetest kitty in the world.

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Last month, we challenged our young writers (18 and under) to submit a 300-word story involving a balloon. From over 1,100 fabulous entries, we chose two Grand Prize Winners and eight Honorable Mentions. We hope you enjoy reading them as much as we did!

“Fate” by Lainey T. — Grand Prize Winner (14-18 Division)

Beatrice had never seen an unopened portal before.

A translucent balloon filled with olive green vines hovered over the sidewalk in front of her. Carmine flowers decorated the greenery, stray petals scattered on the ground.

The street was empty except for Beatrice and the balloon as if it was meant only for her eyes. Which was impossible, because Beatrice wasn’t supposed to discover portals. She was supposed to do her homework and go to class. Her friend, Alexis, always found the portals and dragged Beatrice along on her adventures.

Beatrice pulled out her phone to text Alexis. She was the one who slew dragons, saved kingdoms, and who was written about in history books across countless worlds. Beatrice tagged along as emotional support.

“Do you go looking for this stuff or something?” Beatrice had asked her once when they had entered a realm populated by giant, sentient rocks.

Alexis had grinned. “Adventure finds me, I guess.”

Yet here adventure was, finding Beatrice instead.

Even in their world, she was always the sidekick. A background character in Alexis’s story. She wasn’t interesting enough to be anyone else.

But maybe fate had chosen her this time. The thought was absurd because Beatrice was ordinary. She couldn’t lead armies or fight corrupt kings. For her to want more was ridiculous. It would be best to walk away; she had a physics test to study for.

Beatrice still didn’t move. Entering the portal might be the worst decision she could make, but she didn’t care anymore. What did she have to lose?

Perhaps fate had shown up at the wrong doorstep, but it had shown up all the same.

She grabbed the balloon and dug her nails in.

A pop.

A flash of light brighter than the sun.

The street was empty.


Special guest judge Claire Kann had this to say about “Fate”:What a fun, creative, and intriguing story! Beatrice, the world she lives in, and her goals are established quickly and masterfully. Immediately after finishing, all I could think was: where is the rest? I hope I get to read about Beatrice and her adventures someday.”


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Lainey T. is a writer who loves drawing, playing the harp, singing, and petting her dogs. She is going into her junior year of high school and enjoys reading young adult fantasy, realistic fiction, and occasionally science fiction. In her free time, she loves ranting about books to whoever will listen and listening to music. Her favorite part of writing is developing characters and she loves seeing them come to life on the page. She is passionate about storytelling and hopes to someday get her work published. 

Last month, we challenged our young writers (18 and under) to revise and submit a 400-word excerpt from their NaNoWriMo novel. From over 650 stupendous entries, we chose two Grand Prize Winners and three Honorable Mentions. Today, we’re sharing our Honorable Mentions. We hope you enjoy reading them as much as we did!

Mackerel Sky by Anna — Honorable Mention

England, March 1939.

Rowan Everleigh was the sort of girl who drew one’s attention, seated alone on a train headed north, wearing her oldest clothes and surrounded by a trunk, two suitcases, a small bird cage and an animal cage. The other passengers stared as they passed her. Fully aware of the stares and whispers around her, Rowan valiantly swallowed her fear and set her chin, reading from the book on her lap as if quite unconcerned… 

Read the rest!


Imperfect by Lia — Honorable Mention

She stared at the cat, and the cat stared right back at her. The cat had never seen a human either, and it was just as confused with this large two-legged creature as Katherine was with it. It slowly took a step in the direction of a scraggly patch of trees. The cat hesitantly turned her back on her and lowered her body to a crouch, her attention now of an invisible object… 

Read the rest!


The Elementalists by Molly — Honorable Mention

We descended the stairs quickly and silently. I gripped Faith’s hand tightly, glancing over at her every so often to make sure the spell’s weird rule was still working. It always was—I was just feeling insanely paranoid. Internally, I knew it was stupid to underestimate magic. But if even one aspect of this plan failed, she and I would be in serious trouble… 

Read the rest!

Last month, we challenged our young writers (18 and under) to revise and submit a 400-word excerpt from their NaNoWriMo novel. From over 650 stupendous entries, we chose two Grand Prize Winners and three Honorable Mentions. Today, we’re sharing our Honorable Mentions. We hope you enjoy reading them as much as we did!

Mackerel Sky by Anna — Honorable Mention

England, March 1939.

Rowan Everleigh was the sort of girl who drew one’s attention, seated alone on a train headed north, wearing her oldest clothes and surrounded by a trunk, two suitcases, a small bird cage and an animal cage. The other passengers stared as they passed her. Fully aware of the stares and whispers around her, Rowan valiantly swallowed her fear and set her chin, reading from the book on her lap as if quite unconcerned… 

Read the rest!


Imperfect by Lia — Honorable Mention

She stared at the cat, and the cat stared right back at her. The cat had never seen a human either, and it was just as confused with this large two-legged creature as Katherine was with it. It slowly took a step in the direction of a scraggly patch of trees. The cat hesitantly turned her back on her and lowered her body to a crouch, her attention now of an invisible object… 

Read the rest!


The Elementalists by Molly — Honorable Mention

We descended the stairs quickly and silently. I gripped Faith’s hand tightly, glancing over at her every so often to make sure the spell’s weird rule was still working. It always was—I was just feeling insanely paranoid. Internally, I knew it was stupid to underestimate magic. But if even one aspect of this plan failed, she and I would be in serious trouble… 

Read the rest!

Last month, we challenged our young writers (18 and under) to revise and submit a 400-word excerpt from their NaNoWriMo novel. From over 650 stupendous entries, we chose two Grand Prize Winners and three Honorable Mentions. We hope you enjoy reading them as much as we did!

Just This Once by Stella — Grand Prize Winner (13 and Under Division)

The passenger drone purrs as we glide over the fish farms, spindly black grids stretching for miles. In front of us the border floats innocently, a line of solar transmission buoys. The iCom beeps and the flashing screen shows a red dot moving steadily towards the coast. Dad sighs deeply and taps the screen to lock in the location. He looks tired; this job’s getting to him.

I reach out and take his hand.

Dad hovers above the boat and I can’t help thinking it looks like a teardrop. He presses play and an automated voice echoes over the sea: “You are approaching New Zealand coastal waters. Our population must remain stable to be sustainable, and therefore all immigration is banned. You must leave these waters immediately.”

The people on the deck shout something as Dad lands the drone on our side of the border. He deactivates the windows as a woman calls out, “Please, help us. We’re running out of desalination filters.”

“Look… You’re gonna have to turn around. This is the New Zealand border. I’m sorry, I can’t let you through.”

Out of my window I notice that the group of children who had been pointing at our drone have fallen silent. A tall girl my age pushes forward. Her hair is stiff with salt, but her face is clean, her cheekbones pronounced.

“Where did you come from?” My voice is quiet.

She looks at me sadly.

“The beaches sparkled like a thousand suns were buried in the sand. The sea was the deepest of blues, and every morning we woke to the deafening sound of the shrikebill’s song. But the sea, that was once so dear to us, rose, and rose. It flooded our homes, drowning our island.”

I turn away from her hopeless face, and I whisper, “Can’t we let them in Dad? Just this once. They have nowhere else to go.”

His voice is stern, “Just this once is what happened to America. Now they’re overflowing with rubbish and pollution. There are concerns about their resources. They are facing the consequences of just this once.”

“But Dad…”

He flicks on the drone engine.

As we rise, I cast one fleeting glance back at the boat and see the girl standing on the prow like some figurehead of old and I imagine what it must have been like, to watch your home disappear under the waves.


Stella W. is an aspiring author who loves writing, swimming and hanging out with her friends. She has been published in Toitoi journal, has read her stories on the HeiHei listen app and has been commended in several short story competitions. She is a year 9 at high school and some of her favourite things are food, 5SOS, and reading (especially John Green). She loves to write her own novels and is hoping to publish her current project.

Last month, we challenged our young writers (18 and under) to revise and submit a 400-word excerpt from their NaNoWriMo novel. From over 650 stupendous entries, we chose two Grand Prize Winners and three Honorable Mentions. We hope you enjoy reading them as much as we did!

Just This Once by Stella — Grand Prize Winner (13 and Under Division)

The passenger drone purrs as we glide over the fish farms, spindly black grids stretching for miles. In front of us the border floats innocently, a line of solar transmission buoys. The iCom beeps and the flashing screen shows a red dot moving steadily towards the coast. Dad sighs deeply and taps the screen to lock in the location. He looks tired; this job’s getting to him.

I reach out and take his hand.

Dad hovers above the boat and I can’t help thinking it looks like a teardrop. He presses play and an automated voice echoes over the sea: “You are approaching New Zealand coastal waters. Our population must remain stable to be sustainable, and therefore all immigration is banned. You must leave these waters immediately.”

The people on the deck shout something as Dad lands the drone on our side of the border. He deactivates the windows as a woman calls out, “Please, help us. We’re running out of desalination filters.”

“Look… You’re gonna have to turn around. This is the New Zealand border. I’m sorry, I can’t let you through.”

Out of my window I notice that the group of children who had been pointing at our drone have fallen silent. A tall girl my age pushes forward. Her hair is stiff with salt, but her face is clean, her cheekbones pronounced.

“Where did you come from?” My voice is quiet.

She looks at me sadly.

“The beaches sparkled like a thousand suns were buried in the sand. The sea was the deepest of blues, and every morning we woke to the deafening sound of the shrikebill’s song. But the sea, that was once so dear to us, rose, and rose. It flooded our homes, drowning our island.”

I turn away from her hopeless face, and I whisper, “Can’t we let them in Dad? Just this once. They have nowhere else to go.”

His voice is stern, “Just this once is what happened to America. Now they’re overflowing with rubbish and pollution. There are concerns about their resources. They are facing the consequences of just this once.”

“But Dad…”

He flicks on the drone engine.

As we rise, I cast one fleeting glance back at the boat and see the girl standing on the prow like some figurehead of old and I imagine what it must have been like, to watch your home disappear under the waves.


Stella W. is an aspiring author who loves writing, swimming and hanging out with her friends. She has been published in Toitoi journal, has read her stories on the HeiHei listen app and has been commended in several short story competitions. She is a year 9 at high school and some of her favourite things are food, 5SOS, and reading (especially John Green). She loves to write her own novels and is hoping to publish her current project.

Last month, we challenged our young writers (18 and under) to revise and submit a 400-word excerpt from their NaNoWriMo novel. From over 650 stupendous entries, we chose two Grand Prize Winners and three Honorable Mentions. We hope you enjoy reading them as much as we did!

Splintered by Ben — Grand Prize Winner (14-18 Division)

“Do come inside.”

Leonard stepped into the room.

The room looked like an office belonging to someone rather important, the kind where the person sits facing the door behind a desk and waits for people to come inside so they can tell them to sit.

The woman sitting behind this particular expensive desk was strong-shouldered, dark-skinned, and wearing a crisp grey suit with a red tie. Her hair was in dreadlocks, pulled back in a ponytail, and she wore reflective sunglasses. She carried herself confidently, with the smile of one who had complete control. Leonard had worn that smile before, but he wasn’t wearing it now. Something about her struck Leonard as familiar, but he couldn’t place it.

She laced her fingers together and rested her hands on the table. “Good evening, Mr. Patel. Oh, but—is Kumar Patel your real name?” She smiled knowingly.

Leonard forced his voice calm. “Of course it is. Why wouldn’t it be?”

“Hmm. Well, Mr. Patel, you’ll be surprised to know we don’t have you on any lists here.”

“Maybe it’s a glitch? A misfiling?” Leonard suggested weakly. “I don’t know. I’m just trying to do my job.”

“Hmmm. Well. You’ll have to forgive me for this. We must take all necessary security measures, you understand.”

“Right,” Leonard nodded, but his eyes were focused on the nameplate on the desk. Grand Master Vesta O. Ellsworth, it read. He swallowed. He knew that name.

“My eyes are up here,” Vesta said with a hint of amusement.

“I wasn’t—but you’re wearing sunglasses.” Leonard’s eyes darted up to meet his doubled reflections.

Vesta’s smile split into a perfect white grin. Predatory. “Oh, are they a problem? Then let me just take them off.” She reached up and pulled away the glasses.

She opened her eyes. Leonard inhaled slightly.

The Grand Master of the Illuminati Society did not have what one could possibly call normal eyes. The irises had the precise color and reflectiveness as the sunglasses she had worn. Silver, mirror-like, and peculiarly captivating.

“That’s…” Leonard was at a loss for words.

“Different? Unusual?” Vesta suggested. “Mm, yes. But let’s not worry about that. You’re from another faction, aren’t you?”

“I don’t…” Leonard trailed off, his thoughts drifting into nonexistence. “What are you…?”

Vesta leaned across the desk, staring intently at Leonard. She didn’t blink. “Let’s try that again. What is your real name?


Ben is a teenage writer and thing-creator. He’s fond of sharp suits, birds, and science. Ben is not his legal name, but it’s one he likes. He has a lot of names. Others have described him as a cryptid, a chunk of the Void wearing a suit, a Teeth People, and a snake (in a good way). Ben cannot legally deny these claims. He dreams of being an eccentric man who lives with a lot of books and a lot of birds.

Last month, we challenged our young writers (18 and under) to revise and submit a 400-word excerpt from their NaNoWriMo novel. From over 650 stupendous entries, we chose two Grand Prize Winners and three Honorable Mentions. We hope you enjoy reading them as much as we did!

Splintered by Ben — Grand Prize Winner (14-18 Division)

“Do come inside.”

Leonard stepped into the room.

The room looked like an office belonging to someone rather important, the kind where the person sits facing the door behind a desk and waits for people to come inside so they can tell them to sit.

The woman sitting behind this particular expensive desk was strong-shouldered, dark-skinned, and wearing a crisp grey suit with a red tie. Her hair was in dreadlocks, pulled back in a ponytail, and she wore reflective sunglasses. She carried herself confidently, with the smile of one who had complete control. Leonard had worn that smile before, but he wasn’t wearing it now. Something about her struck Leonard as familiar, but he couldn’t place it.

She laced her fingers together and rested her hands on the table. “Good evening, Mr. Patel. Oh, but—is Kumar Patel your real name?” She smiled knowingly.

Leonard forced his voice calm. “Of course it is. Why wouldn’t it be?”

“Hmm. Well, Mr. Patel, you’ll be surprised to know we don’t have you on any lists here.”

“Maybe it’s a glitch? A misfiling?” Leonard suggested weakly. “I don’t know. I’m just trying to do my job.”

“Hmmm. Well. You’ll have to forgive me for this. We must take all necessary security measures, you understand.”

“Right,” Leonard nodded, but his eyes were focused on the nameplate on the desk. Grand Master Vesta O. Ellsworth, it read. He swallowed. He knew that name.

“My eyes are up here,” Vesta said with a hint of amusement.

“I wasn’t—but you’re wearing sunglasses.” Leonard’s eyes darted up to meet his doubled reflections.

Vesta’s smile split into a perfect white grin. Predatory. “Oh, are they a problem? Then let me just take them off.” She reached up and pulled away the glasses.

She opened her eyes. Leonard inhaled slightly.

The Grand Master of the Illuminati Society did not have what one could possibly call normal eyes. The irises had the precise color and reflectiveness as the sunglasses she had worn. Silver, mirror-like, and peculiarly captivating.

“That’s…” Leonard was at a loss for words.

“Different? Unusual?” Vesta suggested. “Mm, yes. But let’s not worry about that. You’re from another faction, aren’t you?”

“I don’t…” Leonard trailed off, his thoughts drifting into nonexistence. “What are you…?”

Vesta leaned across the desk, staring intently at Leonard. She didn’t blink. “Let’s try that again. What is your real name?


Ben is a teenage writer and thing-creator. He’s fond of sharp suits, birds, and science. Ben is not his legal name, but it’s one he likes. He has a lot of names. Others have described him as a cryptid, a chunk of the Void wearing a suit, a Teeth People, and a snake (in a good way). Ben cannot legally deny these claims. He dreams of being an eccentric man who lives with a lot of books and a lot of birds.

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You wrote your 50,000 words (or got pretty close!). You’re a winner. You felt the high. Now what are you going to do with your precious manuscript? That’s where we, The Book Doctors, come in.

For those of you not familiar with Pitchapalooza, here’s the skinny: You get 250 words to pitch your book. Twenty pitches will be randomly selected from all submissions. We will then critique the pitches during a live webinar on March 16, 2019 at 12PM PST, so you get to see what makes a great pitch. At the end of the webinar, we will choose one winner from the group.

The winner will receive an introduction to an agent or publisher appropriate for their manuscript.

Beginning February 1, 2019, you can email your pitch to nanowrimo@thebookdoctors.com. PLEASE DO NOT ATTACH YOUR PITCH, JUST EMBED IT IN THE EMAIL. Include your title and your name at the top of your pitch. All pitches must be received by 11:59PM PST on February 28, 2019.

We will also crown a fan favorite who will receive a free one-hour consult with us (worth $250). On March 17, 2019, the 20 random pitches will be posted on our website, www.thebookdoctors.com. Anyone can vote for a fan favorite, so get your social media engine running as soon as the pitches go up! Connecting with your future readers is a vital part of being a successfully published author today. And this is a great way to get some practice. Voting closes at 11:59PM PST on April 1, 2019. The fan favorite will be announced on April 2, 2019.

If you purchase a copy of our book, The Essential Guide To Getting Your Book Published, by April 2, 2019, we’re offering an exclusive one-hour webinar where you’ll get the chance to pitch your book. Just attach a copy of your sales receipt to your email and we’ll send the link to the webinar dates.

It’s been a great year for past NaNoWriMo Pitchapalooza winners: 

Gloria Chao’s novel, American Panda (Simon Pulse/Simon & Schuster) released to multiple starred reviews. Read Gloria’s winning pitch.

Cari Noga’s novel, The Orphan Daughter (Lake Union Publishing) published in May. Read Cari’s winning pitch.

And May Cobb’s novel, Big Woods (Midnight Ink) came out in July. Read May’s winning pitch.

Are you feeling a little unsure about exactly how to craft your pitch? Here are 10 Tips for pitching your novel:

  1. A great pitch is like a poem.  Every word counts.
  2. Make us fall in love with your hero.  Whether you’re writing a novel or memoir, you have to make us root for your flawed but lovable hero.
  3. Make us hate your villain.  Show us someone unique and dastardly whom we can’t wait to hiss at.
  4. Just because your kids love to hear your story at bedtime doesn’t mean you’re automatically qualified to get a publishing deal. So make sure not to include this information in your pitch.
  5. If you have any particular expertise that relates to your novel, tell us. Establishing your credentials will help us trust you.
  6. Your pitch is your audition to show us what a brilliant writer you are, so it has to be the very best of your writing.
  7. Don’t make your pitch a book report.  Make it sing and soar and amaze.
  8. A pitch is like a movie trailer.  You start with an incredibly exciting/funny/sexy/romantic/etc. close-up with intense specificity, then you pull back to show the big picture and tell us the themes and broad strokes that build to a climax.
  9. Leave us with a cliffhanger.  The ideal reaction to a pitch is, “Oh my God, what happens next?”
  10. Show us what’s unique, exciting, valuable, awesome, unexpected, about your project, and why it’s comfortable, familiar and proven.

Learn more about Pitchapalooza.


Arielle Eckstut and David Henry Sterry have appeared everywhere from NPR’s Morning Edition to The New York Times to The Wall Street Journal to USA Today. They have taught everywhere from Stanford University to the Miami Book Festival to the granddaddy of American bookstores, Strand Books in New York City.

Their book, The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published, is the go-to book on the subject, and contains all the information you’ll ever need, taking you through the entire process of conceiving, writing, selling, marketing and promoting your book.