Tall Poppies

Hi! My name is Aly Torline – Welcome to The Alley Way. 

Tall Poppy Syndrome is the idea that people are criticized, resented, and cut down specifically due to their achievements. The term refers to the expectation that poppies – hard workers – should grow together. If one grows too tall, it is cut down to size. A study organized by Dr. Rumeet Billan delves into the syndrome and its impact on women in the workplace worldwide.  Author and Founder of Tall Poppy Writers, Ann Garvin, flipped the term ‘Tall Poppy’ on its head and committed to growing an environment where all poppies can grow as high as they’re able. Tall Poppy Writers is a group of authors committed to celebrating and encouraging accomplishments so that everyone can succeed. The strength comes from being part of a community. 

In early 2023, I submitted a book pitch to the Tall Poppy Writers Contest. Could my book pitch convince an agent that I have a unique and engaging story to tell? Only one way to find out… When I entered, I was terrified of putting myself out there and admitting to the fact that I have been an aspiring author since I can remember. That goal has not always been at the forefront of my mind. Sometimes, I identified more as an athlete, a coach, a teacher… But lately, I’ve been unable to picture myself as anything but a writer. So, I sent in the pitch. If I made it to the Shortlist, I would have the opportunity for literary agents to read the pitch. I decided that was my primary goal. Make it onto the Short List. 

I submitted the pitch for my finished manuscript, unsure what would come next. A few days later, I received an email that I made the Top 60! Out of around 250 pitches, I was in the Top 60! Another few days passed by and I received an email that I had made the Top 20. I felt excited and grateful, but like there was more to be done.

The accomplishment of making the Top 20 gave me the confidence that the idea was there, that it had enough legs to carry itself towards the top group. So, while I was thrilled to be surrounded by the other talented writers who earned their spot in the Top 20, my goal extended beyond that. I needed to be on the Short List.

A few days went by and there it was… the email that I had made the Short List, the Top 6! My pitch for Deceit: The Magnolia Oil Con was in the Top 6. Literary Agents would read my pitch and judge it for this phase of the competition. To have a literary agent read your pitch is a guarantee you don’t have when sending out query letters via email. It’s an amazing opportunity. If it was successful in that Top 6, I would earn one of the incredible prizes from one of the prize partners that Tall Poppy Writers had worked with to put on this competition. If I wasn’t successful in the Top 6, at least I would know that the book pitch was solid but not quite there yet for Literary Agents. See, I am new to the writing/publishing world but it didn’t take me long to learn that many Literary Agents will tell you it is a “very subjective” industry. 

I spent three years coaching volleyball at the collegiate level. Recruiting for collegiate volleyball teams is a “very subjective” process as well. As one of my favorite mentors told me, “When it comes to recruits, beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” By this, he meant that each collegiate coach is looking for something a little bit different for their program. One recruit might be very helpful for School A, but not in the realm of what School B is looking for. It doesn’t mean that player is any less talented or capable; it just means they weren’t the right fit for School B. Having that collegiate coaching experience has made me much more resilient and prepared for this process. My story might be the right fit for Agent A, but seem dull to Agent B. I just have to find Agent A.

Prior to receiving the email that I was in the Top 6, I had told 2 people that I was writing a novel: my husband and my mom. There are so many reasons that I kept this private, but if I’m zooming out, the main idea is that I like to play things pretty close to the vest. 

A member of the Shortlist, my book pitch would not only be judged by Literary Agents but by the Bloom Facebook Group in accordance with Tall Poppy Writers. We were encouraged to tell friends and family about the Readers Choice aspect of the contest so we could have them vote. I mustered up the courage to tell about 4 new people and gave them each bits and pieces of the overall picture. (Thank you to the 4 of you for voting for me!). 

The wait time between learning I was in the Top 6 and hearing the final results of the contest was excruciating. And then one morning at 5:30am (time change), I got a call from an unknown number and I knew in my gut it was the contest. I’m not my best self until I’m two cups of coffee deep into my morning and making a poor first impression was out of the question so the call went to voicemail. Now, I’m glad I did because I received one of my favorite voicemails: I took 2nd place! I was ninety-nine percent elated! If I’m being perfectly honest, I am competitive enough to be just a touch dissatisfied at 2nd place but I’m working on it. 

As one of the winners, I earned a single-page custom website from Author Bytes. I had the best time working with their team to create this and I couldn’t be more grateful for their willingness and expertise in bringing my haphazard vision to life. 

From the contest, I made connections with some awesome people, gained valuable insight, and even had the opportunity to have my full manuscript reviewed and I received helpful feedback on it. Because of the Tall Poppy Writers Contest, I have gone from an aspiring author in private to someone with a super cool website and the hope that I might be published one day 🙂


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