Alcoholism (of self, of parents), amulet discovery, autism, being a musician, being a twenty-year-old musician with existential torments, being a twenty-year-old musician with existential torments who lives in Brooklyn (don't feel bad; even Jonathan Lethem can't make that interesting), bipolar disorder, crime spree ending in small dusty Mexican town, cubicle jobs (depression resulting from, comedies about, hijinks therein), death (of father/mother/fiancé/e/spouse/child), demons (existential), demons (romances with, escape from, pursuit by), drugs (career in sales of, use of, rescuing friends from), hedge-fund mis/management, investment banking (scandals in, exposés of, thrilling ascents and perilous crashes in the field of), meeting hot chicks, military service, mob (romances with, escape from, pursuit by), schizophrenia, synesthesia, terrorism, thinking positively in difficult times, your life.
Topics That Are Not, In Fact, of Inherent Interest, and Do Require Some Effort On Your Part in Order to Constitute a Successful Book
Tuesday, September 29, 2009
Wednesday, September 23, 2009
We semi-regularly volunteer with the most awesome nonprofit in the entire universe, chaperoning the fine young people of Brooklyn as they bravely sally forth upon the perilous battleground that is Learning the Craft of Fiction. We have also noticed of late in the slushpile a shocking number of queries from writers who are possessed of stunning credentials, have published short stories in All the Finest Literary Journals, and who send us, upon our eager request, their debut novels, which are written in such breathtakingly lovely prose that it is sometimes upwards of forty pages before we realize NOTHING IS HAPPENING, HAS HAPPENED, OR IS GOING TO HAPPEN. How are these seemingly disparate elements related, you ask us? Why, we'll tell you!
Here's something kids figure out right away: an important part of Crafting Fiction is Keeping the Reader Interested. Seem obvious, yes? But sometimes one gets so carried away on heady flights of turgid prose that one loses sight of all clear objectives and shortly thereafter launches one's rapture-inspired offspring into the mercilessly cruel seas of the Slushpile, having forgotten altogether to arm it with the Life-Raft of A PLOT.
Take this fine advice from young T., a third-grader from Park Slope: "It's like when you think you are going to care about the book, but then no stuff happens, so you get bored and then you read a different book." Or wee L.: "If the people aren't doing anything cool the book is dumb." Writing Literary Fiction does not give you a special exemption from being interesting, dear author-friends. Making cool stuff happen is not! beneath! you!
Where is our whiskey! Someone send it at once please! And an intravenous shot of R. Chandler!
Monday, September 21, 2009
J. Patterson, of Sucksville, IL asks:
"If I am going to be querying a comedic piece of fiction (yes, it's more than boob puns, just not much more) - should I target commercial fiction agents? Those agents listed as accepting "quirky" or "humor" on Agent Query? What category do I fall under? "
"Quirky" is one of those words, like "interesting," "unique," and "special," that travel under the guise of a compliment but are actually what we used to call out on the West Coast a "secret dis." For example, we are pretty sure we got voted "most unique" in the graduating senior class of our terrifying backwoods hyperconservative hometown only because there was no category for "most likely to come out as a Jesus-hating baby-sacrificing communist homosexual within fifteen minutes of graduating." Anyway. We cannot fully answer this question without knowing more about your DO NOT QUERY US WE ARE ANONYMOUS project, but it sounds as though yes, you should query agents who specialize in "quirky" commercial fiction. We mean "quirky" as no insult to you.
A. Fournier, of Meaulnes, AK demands:
"What percentage of queries actually result in representation... on average? Also, how many clients do most agents have at one time?"
"Steve" receives around 200 queries a week; we request 3 or 4 manuscripts a week; "Steve" has signed up six clients out of the slush pile since we started working for "Steve" about a year and a half ago. HOWEVER. This information is of no use to you. You ALREADY KNOW the odds are against you, author-friends. If your book is GOOD and/or has COMMERCIAL POTENTIAL, someone will eventually take notice. If it helps you in your Process to imagine us standing behind you, screaming "SACK UP, BABIES," please feel free to do so.Number of clients varies wildly amongst the agent population. "Steve" has about thirty, but some of them fools ain't churned out a book since we was in diapers.
C. Dickens, of Charming-Upon-Loquacious, NH wonders:
"If Manhattan were to become inundated, what item do you have in your office, or could you scrounge up in your building, that you could use as a flotation device and/or floating cocktail bar? "
Honey, by the time that happens, we are going to be riding high on the seventeen-figure advance our Young Adult Fantasy Novel will shortly garner us, lolling about in our Italian Villa, with Baby Cave bringing us delicious cocktails and tasty snacks whilst our Support Team fans us with palm fronds.
H. Bloom, of Pomposity, AR ponders:
"Do you ever socialize with assistants from competing agencies? If so, what might a typical activity and/or topic of conversation be?"
Funny you should ask! We have just got home after having drinksies with the Nice Assistant (who, unlike us, is polite, discreet, and always tastefully dressed) where we were discussing how much being a writer is like being a contestant on ANTM. You either got the face or you don't, kiddos, and all the boob jobs in the world ain't gonna make you pretty. Also, we talk mad shit about the back office.
R. Bringhurst, of Joyful, WA enquires:
"If it's more difficult to sell a novel by a debut writer, why isn't anyone publishing paperback originals of debut novelists? I mean high-quality paperback originals, like the Penguin Classics Deluxe Editions, with the flaps and heavier paper. I know I am much more likely to buy a book by an author I've never heard of for $15 than $27, and I can't imagine I'm the only one. Is it just the negative stigma associated with the phrase 'paperback original'?"
Honestly, this is a fine example of The Publishing Industry Acting Like a Bunch of Cretins. We don't know. We recently witnessed a Tragic Debacle, involving a debut author of "Steve's," wherein "Steve" pleaded extensively with the publisher of said debut for a paperback original; said publisher refused, added HORRIFIC cover for good measure; book tanked; career of debut author is now dubious at best. Indie presses are far ahead of the curve on this one.
M. Bulgakov of Behemoth, NY entreats:
"Editorial Anonymous posted this as part of a blog entry on overenthusiastic, unagented first-time authors: 'No questions about escalations? No polite query about a slightly higher advance? No discussion of where I see the book development going?' The higher advance part I get. What are escalations? What does book development mean here?"
We assume the lovely EA is referring to royalty escalation clauses in author contracts; basically, this means your royalties go up if your sales do. "Book Development" is like when you have the Magical Conversation with your Potential Agent, and the Agent asks you where you see your Revisions headed, and you are all like, "I really envision this novel as a sort of homage to Anna Karenina , with certain postmodernist elements, and of course the meta-narrative which references freely both The Society of the Spectacle and Ulysses," and your Potential Agent is all like, "Yeah, totally! I think you should also change the milieu to Forks and add a little something LINK NOT SAFE FOR WORK sparkly." In other words, a conversation you really want to have before you sign anything.
M. Anderson, of Feed, NJ muses:
"Will the publishing industry screw up with e-books the way the music industry did with mp3s?"
Don't know. We will never, ever, not if you hold a GUN TO OUR HEAD, read a book (actual book, not manuscript) on an electronic device. Never. We refer you now to other people who have some idea of what they are talking about
J. Rowling, of Concerned, AL poses:
"Who would you bet on in a bar fight/arm wrestling match/thumb war/first person to successfully brainwash the whole effing world? Dan Brown or Stephenie Meyer?"
We recently reread A Study in Scarlet and are reminded that even the inimitable Sherlock Holmes thought twice before fucking with the Mormons. We are going with the Steems on this one.
F. Fanon of Revolution, OR queries:
"How do you keep your butt from getting droopy and flat while sitting at a desk all day? Squats on your lunch hour?"
A vigorous regimen of squats and lunges. Not at the office. In the interests of full disclosure, Rejectionist père is 6'4" and capped out at a buck-fifty for most of his adult life, so we have a pretty hefty genetic advantage in this arena.
B. Smith of Dreamy, MA demands:
"Are press on nails the answer for an impromptu Friday night switch from typing to club-hopping?"
Nope. Karl is.
TIRED. NO MORE QUESTIONS.
Sunday, September 20, 2009
1. Embarked upon full-on mental health blowout, including Questioning of Existence, Copious Weeping on Subway, and PickingFights with Strangers on Street. We are such a delight, mm-hmm. Feeling much better today, thanks to extensive soothing noises from Support Team and afternoon spent listening to 50 Cent and making pickles
2. Too busy thrashing about in throes of existential malaise to so much as look at your Publishing Questions, so please feel free to keep sending. We will compose ourselves and answer them later this week, once we've taken out our misery on some first-time novelists.
Friday, September 18, 2009
We are totally riding the waaaahmbulance today, author-friends; it's just been one of those weeks where the End of Days seems very close, we are real weepy about the bats and the bees and the polar bears, and, on a wholly selfish note, we are feeling more than a little uncertain about the prospect of us ever having a job that a. includes health insurance, b. is not food service, and c. does not involve being sent out to fetch comestibles for another fully functional and able-bodied adult. Not that we're not grateful to be gainfully employed while Manhattan is still above water
So why don't you distract us, dear author-friends, by giving us a platform to talk about our Very Favorite Subject Ever: Ourself! Oh, okay, or publishing. Email your very best and smartest questions to rejectionistandyourmom (at) gmail.com and we will do our very best and smartest to, uh, answer them. Be exciting! Be clever! Don't ask us why your query has been rejected 195,462 times! We don't know! Because either 195,462 agents are stupid, or your query is, maybe! Potential topics might include: "Who is a better role model for office fashion, Debbie Harry or Karen O?" (Debbie Harry, but only until we can afford Rodarte), "How do you stay in top fighting form?" (Very rare grass-fed steak on the highly infrequent occasion we can afford it, Maker's on the rocks, and running twenty miles a week), or "Can I get a job in publishing with a mohawk?" (Yes. We were surprised, too).
Also, reminders at this time to not watch The Children of Men or read Derrick Jensen would be helpful. Also, if anyone wants to send us money, encouragement, sponsorship, or fine organic groceries, that would be appreciated, too. We really do love you. And your little books, too.
TAGSplease send drink
Thursday, September 17, 2009
Children and teenagers are YOUNG. Being YOUNG is not the same thing as being a MORON. One more "Happy harmless Hattie the Hippopotamus must readily rescue her friends Alan Aardvark, Pookie Possum, and Wammi Warthog from eerily evil Dee Spo Zall, Witch of the Garbage Pail, while learning a Special Lesson about Friendship!!!!!!!!" and we are going to SHOOT OURSELF.
Also, writing for young people does not mean it is suddenly okay to throw in a whole bunch of wildly inappropriate racist crap about African witch doctors or Noble Injuns. What do you think you're doing, penning ad copy for Colonizers' Quarterly? Jesus H., IT'S NOT EVEN TEN AM. AUGHHH. SEND HELP.
By "you" we do not, of course, mean YOU, dear author-friends. We know YOU would never do this to us.
Wednesday, September 16, 2009
Are we the only person in the world who finds this deeply, unutterably depressing?
Tuesday, September 15, 2009
Scientific research has confirmed our suspicions: 97.839% of manuscripts written in Courier are epically, wildly, apocalyptically terrible. Better switch to Times or Helvetica, y'all. Sorry. We know they're boring.
CLARIFICATION: What we meant was that 97.839% of writers who use Courier are epically, wildly, apocalyptically terrible. Sorry if that was vague. As far as what you should use for your ms, Times is industry standard, but the only font that will cause us to reject your book without even looking at it is Papyrus.
Monday, September 14, 2009
People in comas, dead fiancés, being cheated on, infanticide, “a sparing style” (Yes, please! Spare us!), “this book starts in the past and ends in the future,” poetry, novels written “in the style of a screenplay,” al-Qaeda, “a story of depraved sexual torture and serial murder," conspiracy theories based on children’s television programming, the midlife crises of middle-aged men. THE MIDLIFE CRISES OF MIDDLE-AGED MEN. Are we repeating ourselves? Every week? Why yes, yes, we are. APPARENTLY IT’S NOT WORKING.
Also, it is extremely probable that you are writing a PARANORMAL YA novel. Not PARANOID.
Monday, September 14, 2009
We'll guarantee a book deal for the first person who sends us a pair of these. Okay. Thanks.
Sunday, September 13, 2009
1. The entire publishing industry is currently engaged in a collective conspiracy to prevent your novel from being published, ever. Yep. ENTIRE industry. YOUR novel. You heard us right.
2. You've been rejected by every agent you've queried because agents are morons who know nothing of Great Literature. Most agents have never actually even read a book. They got the Cliffs Notes for Twilight . Seriously. It's that bad.
3. People who choose to work in publishing hate good books. HATE 'em. Don't ever want to see a good book again. Don't want to have anything to do with bringing a good book into the world. Don't get giddy with joy when they open up something like, say, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao and realize somebody has just blown away the entire universe of what was previously possible to do with a novel. People who choose to work in publishing, sometimes for FREE for YEARS, and certainly for very little money, no job security, no promise of any sort of reward or recognition, ever; all of those people HATE BOOKS. It's, like, staggering. Like, just the other day? "Steve" was all like, "Jesus! You know what I hate! REALLY AMAZING BOOKS THAT CHANGE THE WAY I LOOK AT THE WORLD! I sure hope nobody ever sends me any of those! I am just, so, like, totally sick of books! I'm going to go drink a bunch of Schlitz and watch drag racing! And kick it with my mad homies the Philistines!"
4. We form-reject you 'cause it makes our meager, pathetic, joyless little life that much better to know we've ruined your day. We're petty like that. When we spell your name wrong? It's not because it's the 147th email we've sent that morning. It's because we feel like twisting the knife.
Friday, September 11, 2009
Dear author-friends, if you ever have the urge to title your science-fiction novel BOOM! POTATO POTATO! and the Princess of Papyrion , that's fine. But no one's going to publish it. Just so you know. Have a nice weekend.
Wednesday, September 09, 2009
Dear author-friends, here is a pleasing secret for you: most agents are pretty smart, have a pretty good idea of what sells, and have pretty decent taste in books. Surprise! What does this mean for you? It means if your beloved novel/memoir/inspirational treatise receives one offer of representation, it will probably receive several more shortly thereafter. Super exciting for you, yes indeedy. However, whilst cavorting about your domicile in a state of ecstatic glee, please keep this in mind: submitting to multiple agents, and then emailing them all at once to say never mind, as you've accepted another offer and are withdrawing your manuscript, is sort of like offering to take someone out to dinner, encouraging them to order something particularly delicious, and then taking their plate away from them just as they're about to tuck in and handing it off to someone at a neighboring table. In other words: not polite. Remember, the agent ultimately is working for YOU. If an agent is pleased enough by your manuscript to make an offer, that agent will be equally pleased a week from now, and if that agent isn't totally impressed by your professionalism after you request said week to give other agents you've submitted to a chance to look at your book, that agent is probably not someone you want to be working with. Also, if, say, "Steve" is TWO HUNDRED EFFING PAGES INTO YOUR MANUSCRIPT AND GIDDY WITH EXCITEMENT RE: ITS AWESOMENESS upon receiving your email withdrawing it, "Steve's" assistant--er, "Steve"--will probably HATE YOUR GUTS FOREVER. That's all. We will return to our regular programming of wailing, gnashing our teeth, and complaining about moronic query letters shortly. Thank you.
Tuesday, September 08, 2009
The publishing interwebs were afire last week with differing opinions as to the wonderfulness or nefariousness of the unpublished; there was this post from the indefatigable posi-core powerhouse Nathan Bransford, this post from the brilliant and funny Eric of Pimp My Novel (note to self after reading ensuing comments from self-publishers: do NOT f*ck with self-publishers, good lord (note to self-publishers: we agree 1,000% with Eric, along with everyone else who works in ACTUAL (ooh, snap!) publishing, sorry; but good luck to you!)), and some other posts by certain wise and beloved agents and anonymous editors who clearly have received one too many of the "Dear To Whom It May Concern I always knew I had to be a Writer you will be glad to recieve my short Story Collection for children entitled Muffy the Bunnies Adventure in Christmasville it is a touching inspirationel Collection of 234,552 words guranteed bestseller oportunity with Film Potential" sort of query.
Most of the people we meet in publishing are not actually writers themselves. Not so us, dear author-friends, and, like you, we have an elegant collection of rejection letters from only the finest and most discerning literary magazines, except for McSweeney's, who we are still waiting to hear back from re: a story we sent them in 1937, but we are sure it is only taking so long because D-Eggs wants to confirm the film deal with Spielbs before he calls us personally, and everyone knows how slow Spielbs is! But here, dear author-friends, is a truth we have learned and accepted the hard way, through Personal Knowledge and Experiential Learning, and also at our Job, which is: Not everyone is going to get published. In fact, very very few people are going to get published. In fact, we reject a hundred people a week who will never, ever, ever get published. Plenty of the people who do get published will publish books that are worse than yours. Or, you might write a book, and it might not be very good. We ourself might not ever, ever get published. We ourself might not be very good. Sorry. Them's the haps. The fact is, THE WORLD WILL CONTINUE. For all of us. And if you love writing, you'll keep writing. Yes, it would be nice to have Our Brilliant Novel in a shiny new dustjacket (Chip Kidd, natch! Only the best for us!) to send our parents and also Birch Rubens, wherever he is, who told us when we were ten that we clearly sucked eggs and would never publish a book ever, shortly before hitting us over the head with his sister's hairbrush. Yes, it would be nice to have our Staggering Talent validated, our vacations to Aruba and charming retreat home in the Catskills paid for with our Unheard-Of Advance, our international book tour, our Salman Rushdie blurb, our front-page review in the New York Times with the title: Luminary Genius Arises! Voice of the Century Discovered! Better than Nabokov For Reals! And yes, no offense to "Steve," it would be nice to quit working altogether and loaf about, delegating the penning of our various sequels to a small army of talented interns while we are fed gingersnaps and cocktails by our Support Team.
But also, those things might not ever happen. We might write a book and nobody will notice. Will that be sad for us? Yep. Will that be the end of our life? Proof that our existence is, in fact, without any redeeming purpose? Probably not.
Darling author-friends, we are NOT by any means telling you not to write. We are offering you asort of tough-love approach, a refusal to delude you with promises of puppies and unicorns. Persistence does not always pay off with laurels upon which to rest. We could practice swimming sixteen hours a day for the next ten years, and we still won't be going to the Olympics; sew dresses until our fingers fall off, and no one will be inviting us to fashion week; and, let's face it, all of us could write every hour of every day for the rest of our lives and ain't none of us going to come up with Lolita . Brush your little selves off and keep your chins up. We know it's hard because we've been there, and are in fact hanging out there, making occasional embittered comments about the "immature style" of people younger than us who are cranking out critically acclaimed novels that are, like, soooo much dumber than the book we are totally going to write as soon as we finish looking at this one last fashion blog. We are not immune to the perils of jealousy, impotent rage, and deep-seated feelings of our own superiority. We are also not consoling ourselves with the thought that The Da Vinci Code was rejected 125,642 times; The Da Vinci Code was rejected 125,642 times because it's not a good book , and, quite frankly, the world would have been a better place if the 125,643rd person had rejected it too. Work at it because you love it, because it makes you happy, because you want to; and if you never get published, you will know that you persisted because you were writing for yourself. Not your mom, not Birch Rubens, not the fickle and often insane publishing industry, not the (let's face it: highly improbable) vacation home, not the people who've told you you're no good, not your skeptical and disparaging aunt/partner/parent/sibling/mean friend. For yourself and yourself alone. And if you finish your book, and you love it, by all means send it out into the world and hope for the best. And if it sucks, query Nathan Bransford. Not us. Heh. Sorry, Nathan.
Saturday, September 05, 2009
As you all have probably heard, dear author-friends, the best TV show in the entire history of the universe aired its last episode Friday. We'll be in the backyard crying on the four scary-looking dudes on horseback. We can only say: LeVar Burton, we salute you, comrade and hero of the people. And universe: Seriously, WTF. We are really starting to wonder if there is HOPE FOR THE FUTURE, OKAY?
Thursday, September 03, 2009
Okay, dear author-friends, you want to write about vampires. We get it. Believe us, it's not as though we don't understand the intrinsic fabulousness of the vampire, or think that vampire books are inherently a no-go; this book is awesome (although M.T. Anderson's entire oeuvre falls under the category of Do Not Try This At Home), these books are lots of fun and have vampires, and one of our favorite novels of all time is a wildly trashy story of doomed love and unconsummated passion between a hot young lady and her obsessive, stalker-esque vampire suitor, rife with creepy Christian propaganda and highly unsubtle metaphorical themes equating female sexuality with demonic forces. You know, DRACULA? Maybe you've heard of it? Anyway, like we said, we get it. But what we don't get is why all of you want to write the same vampire novel, which we find very DRAINING, and seriously SUCKS US DRY. We know a certain vampire novel is currently doing a brisk business, but here's the problem: somebody already wrote that novel, and it wasn't you; and just because that wasn't the most TOOTHSOME vampire novel doesn't necessarily mean you ought to have a STAB AT IT. So. Here, for your reference, is a list of vampire novels we don't see sixteen times a day, which you may SINK YOUR TEETH INTO. Heh.
-Sporty/Nautical vampires. Perhaps Vampy is a rising international tennis star, whose career may be doomed due to his/her inability to play at any time other than the dead of night? Vampy is a yacht captain, who sails the seas of darkness? Vampy is Michael Phelps? Nobody ever said vampires can't get wet.
-Vampires of color. White people always get to have all the fun.
-Retail vampires. Maybe Vampy is a harried cashier at a gas station? Who can only work an eternity of graveyard shifts?
-Try to consider the remote possibility, author-friends, that vampires might have amorous inclinations toward people other than teenage girls. Just saying. Vampires might actually BE teenage girls. A whole posse of mean vampire cheerleaders? Like Heathers , but with teeth? Yes please.
-Hair-metal vampires. OMG. The FASHION. Also Keith Richards is so a vampire and you know it.
-We think the back office might be vampires. We can't figure out what else they're doing in there. It's not publishing, that's for sure. Hmm. Our landlady, also possibly a vampire? Really, the undead possibilities are seriously ETERNAL. Uh, infinite.
Tuesday, September 01, 2009
Today! is the most perfect day! imaginable! in New York! the sky is a clear and cloudless blue! the birds chirp! a gentle breeze wafts, entirely sans that dense New-York-in-August stink of boiled poop! everyone is smiling on the subway! and we garnered a number of hostile looks from foxy ladies in our walk through the meatpacking district, which, we have finally learned after 1.01 years in the city, means we are wearing a splendid outfit! A PERFECT DAY! in fact, for sitting in a windowless fluorescent-lit box, cracked out on antihistamines and three shots of espresso, staring at a computer screen! And so! dear author-friends, inspired by the indomitable spirit of Authors Who Think the Random Deployment of Fifty-Cent Words Will Distract Us From How Deeply, Truly Awful Their Query Letter Is (our scientific analysis has shown us that this group is 47.5% young gents from Brooklyn writing "in the spirit of Bukowski," 32.5% former military operatives penning Al-Qaeda thrillers, and .007% writers whose books are actually probably pretty good but whose heads exploded with stress when they sat down to pen their queries, sending random fifty-cent words flying), we offer you this Very Special Writing Exercise!!!!!!
HERE IS YOUR MISSION, SHOULD YOU CHOOSE TO ACCEPT IT: Darling Author-Friends, please use the following Randomly Deployed Fifty-Cent Query Letter Words in a Paragraph. ONE paragraph. They do not have to be utilized in the order given.We will be beside ourself with excitement should you choose to share the results, and will even bestow a PRIZE upon the most creative entry, which is: our love and affection, which we don't hand out to just ANYBODY. Without further ado, here are your assigned words:
TEMERARIOUS, PROFLIGATE, BELEAGUERED, EXORBITANT, RAVENOUS, IDIOSYNCRATIC, WUNDERKIND, NEFARIOUS, PROVOCATIVE, WEREWOLF
Sample: "Today I am feeling particularly BELEAGUERED," ten-year-old lit-agent WUNDERKIND Bobby Broadside mused aloud. "Though my PROFLIGATE use of the form rejection has reached an all-time height, I'm still plagued with an EXORBITANT number of queries from these TEMERARIOUS fools who think themselves both IDIOSYNCRATIC and PROVOCATIVE! Don't they know they're a dime a dozen? I'd much rather read a book about a WEREWOLF. Where are the WEREWOLF queries? WEREWOLF, WEREWOLF. Arf, arf. Speaking of which, I'm RAVENOUS! Somebody bring me a goddamn martini!"
AND! WE HAVE A WINNER! and the winner, dear author-friends, is US. For hoodwinking such a parade of GENIUSES (genii?) as yourselves into perusing the wacky little universe of our brain. We are SO PLEASED with your efforts, and have chosen to bestow our love and affection UPON YOU ALL. EXCEPT for "dollcannotfly," who is clearly "STEVE," submitting an actual query letter, which is totally not fair to the other contestants.