Combine over 150 manuscripts, Miami faculty & staff and a few creative writing graduate students and you have a group of people all eager to find out what adventures await them.
It’s The Miami University Press Novella Contest, and they are reading for a winner. With each work graded on a 1-5 scale, David Schloss, professor of creative writing, is in charge of reviewing the top choices.
Schloss found himself in this boat when he was asked to volunteer to judge this year’s contest.
“Mostly everyone on the staff had done it once, maybe even twice,” Schloss said. “They begged me to do it, and I gave in—turns out I’m doing it next year too.”
Schloss said the contest is advertised to those not associated with the Miami community. The winner can’t have any ties with Miami. To enter, contestants pay around $25. The winner is given all of the entry money, so it is a lottery in a sense.
“It’s hard to get a book published,” Schloss said, “they send in their material in hopes to make a difference in the readership world.”
This year’s contest was particularly interesting, because there were two winners—John Cotter and David Chambers.
Schloss said Cotter’s book was both touching and detailed, and Chambers’ was simple yet inspiring.
“Both of them intrigued me in different ways, so I went to Associate Dean Keith Tuma to ask his opinion,” Schloss said. “It just so happened this year we had enough money to publish both books.”
One of the winners of the contest, John Cotter, said a friend’s help led him to entering.
“I thought ‘maybe I’ll see if someone specializes in novellas,” Cotter said, “a friend of mine just happened to have heard of this one.”
Cotter said working with Miami faculty and staff has been a pleasure, and he was excited to find someone who would be interested in his work even though it is a shorter piece of fiction.
“The word novella is problematic because it indicates to people you’re producing something shorter/less than a novel.” said Cotter, “Mainstream publishing is concerned with length as a measure of importance.”
Cotter said he was ecstatic when he received the call that his book had won.
“They told me they had ended it in a tie, and asked if I would be OK with both of us getting the full prize money.”
Cotter had nothing but rave reviews for Schloss.
“We never spoke in person, but his e-mails were some times four pages long, going in-depth about each line of my book. At the end, I really felt ‘read,'” Cotter said.
Cotter said he started writing the book six years ago and is delighted to finally have it published.
“For one thing, it’s obviously hugely encouraging,” Cotter said. “A lot of people have trouble getting published, so I really lucked out.”
Now that his book is out there, Cotter said he is excited to be able to build up a sense of community through opportunities that he might not otherwise get—like going on a nationwide tour with his book.
Schloss said if someone else were judging the contest, there might have been a different result. He said a lot of the entries were well written, and some people have a real chance at being published in the future, possibly even by Miami.