Never Say Never!
Written by
Rebecca Elswick
January 2012
Written by
Rebecca Elswick
January 2012

Never say.

Don’t bother to enter those contests. No one ever wins. Because I did and I have the book to prove it!

The contest was sponsored by Writer’s Digest and Abbott Press and was called #Pitch2Win Writing and Publishing Contest. I discovered it on Twitter, and it sounded simple enough - in a single tweet of 140 characters or less, pitch your novel.

I had just completed a novel called Mama’s Shoes, and had waded into the frustrating world of agents and publishers. And now, on the computer in front of me, was a contest that promised the winner a publishing contract with Abbott Press. I read the rules and decided I wanted to enter. There was only one problem, the contest ended at midnight, on Sunday, March 27, 2011 and it was just after 11:00 PM on March 26! I had less than an hour to come up with my pitch and the clock was ticking.

I remember staring at the computer screen in front of me. How could I describe my novel in 140 characters?

For the next half hour, I typed and erased; typed and erased. Just before midnight, I filled the space with a line from my novel, “Mama always said you can tell a real lady by the shoes she wears, but then nobody ever accused Mama of being a lady.” I clicked send.

I knew I had found the perfect tweet to describe Mama’s Shoes. After all, it was that line that was runner-up in another contest, this one in Writer’s Digest Magazine. If you keep every issue of Writer’s Digest like I do, pull out the October 2003 issue. On page 14, you will find the winners of Your Opening Line #8 Contest.The object of the contest was simple; based on a tiny black and white picture of flip flops on a beach; write the opening line for a novel. It took me eight years, but that’s exactly what I did. That line, Mama always said you can tell a real lady by the shoes she wears, but then nobody ever accused Mama of being a ladybecame the foundation for Mama’s Shoes. And even though it’s not the opening line, it is in the first chapter. Page nine.

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  • Julie McKay Covert

    This Twitter contest makes me think of something I learned long ago about pitching your business; it applies just the same for pitching and promoting a book. I used to be the president of a Business Network International (BNI) group and we'd teach our new members to come up with a elevator pitch about their business they could present in 60 seconds.

    Quite often I'll have someone in a checkout line ask me what my book is about. She doesn't have five minutes to listen to the full arc. She does have the time and interest to hear a sentence or two. And being able to do it in 140 characters is great! Then if she is interested I give her my business card, which includes my blog so she can follow me.

    Everyone should be able to come up with a quick one or two sentence about their business or book to answer the question "What is your book about?"

    When I went to a writers' conference a few years ago and participated in a pitch slam, I took business cards I had made that had my contact information to give the agents and publishers who were interested. On the back I put my proposed book name and two sentences about the book I was pitching. They thought it was a clever idea and you are all welcome to use the idea.

  • Virginia Lloyd

    Congratulations Rebecca! That is a fabulous sentence - makes me want to read more. Please let us know when it's being released. Maybe you could blog here about your experiences along the path to publication? From single tweet to finished book ...

  • Heather Marsten

    Nice - it was the perfect tweet.  Thanks for sharing.  When my WIP is completed, I will keep this in mind.


  • Heather Harshman

    This is very encouraging. I've begun entering contests but wondered if I was selling myself short.  Now I know to keep pushing forward!  Thanks

  • Great post!  I've become a contest slut...6 of the chapters of my forthcoming journalistic memoir have won 10 awards, which is a great credit on my book proposal (not to mention an ego boost when I'm in those hair-tearing moments!).  Plus, 2 chapters will appear in mainstream anthologies this spring -- chapters that I entered into contests and did NOT win.  You never know who is reading at the other end!  

    My tips:  1.  Only enter contests you think you can win and can afford to lose.  Some of the fees are getting quite high; I weigh that against the number of prizes awarded and how well my work fits the theme.  2.  Enter a bunch at once.  That way, you can enter and forget about them!  3.  Save the unpublished work for contests that require first rights.  I've been able to re-enter winning chapters in other contests that don't have the "virgin" requirement.

    I subscribe to 2 free list serves that send out digests with contest content:  crwropps (at) aol (dot) com and hope (at) fundsforwriters (dot) com.  Both are one-woman operations dedicated to supporting other writers (Alison Joseph and Hope Clark, respectively).  Terrific!

    My book is about my pre- and post-invasion trips to Iraq and my subsequent work with Iraqi refugees in Syria.  When I'm not searching for an agent, I blog at

    Kelly Hayes-Raitt

  • Regina Y. Swint

    Hi, Rebecca,

    That is super cool and super encouraging.  I love that story and the opening line, even if it did end up on page nine of the finished novel.  :)  Thanks for sharing that.

  • Cynthia L. Williams


    I remember meeting you in a writer's workshop a couple of years ago and liked what you'd written and shared with us.

    Your published novel is a direct result of your talent and bravery. So very happy for you and many wishes for continued success.

    C. Williams