Who Done It? Alibi Contest

who done it soho teen jon scieszkaDid YOU do it?

Did YOU kill the most heinous, hateful, gaseous editor the literary world has ever known?

No? Prove it!

83 of the world’s most famous YA authors—think Libba Bray, David Levithan, John Green, Lemony Snicket, and Lauren Myracle—have already written their alibis, which have been collected in the new anthology Who Done It?. They most certainly did not murder their editor, Herman Mildew.

But now the fuzz suspects you. Write an alibi of 500 to 1,000 words and you could win your freedom—plus a thousand dollars! Not to mention a review of your work by New York literary agent Suzie Townsend of the New Leaf Literary Agency. And an invite to a swanky party (if you can get yourself to NYC—and we hope you can!) or a phone call with author Jon Scieszka. Note that you must be between 13 and 18 to be eligible for this contest.

Brought to you by Figment and SohoTeen, with 826NYC and I Heart Daily.

Figment SohoTeen 826NYC I Heart Daily


First, the backstory:

Herman Mildew, the most wretched editor alive, has allegedly been murdered. 

Here’s what Jon Scieszka had to say about him:

He was mean, arrogant, loud, large, obnoxious, cruel to small furry animals, delusional, thoughtless, difficult, vulgar, negative, likely to take the last sip of orange juice and then put the empty carton back in the refrigerator, intolerant, sneaky, greedy, fond of toenail clippings and strong cheeses, hugely entertained by the misfortune of others, hateful, quick to anger, unforgiving, mean, gaseous, paranoid, belligerent, unreasonable, demanding, smelly, near-sighted . . . in short: an editor.  Perhaps even your editor, or the editor of someone you admire.

Some examples of his sadistic behavior, in no particular order:

  • He enrolled Dave Eggers in True Romance’s Book-of-the-Month Club.
  • He drew mustaches on all of Lauren Oliver‘s author photos.
  • He told Mo Willems what he could do with the Pigeon.


Second, the problem:

You, as a talented writer, are a suspect in his murder.  Related facts about your predicament:

  • You know him. 
  • He was your editor.
  • You don’t know how he was murdered.
  • You only know that the murder occurred on a night when you were doing something else.


Adele Griffin Jon Scieszca Melissa Walker

Celebrity judges.

Third, the solution:

It’s up to you to convince celebrity judges Adele Griffin, Jon Scieszka, and Melissa Walker that YOU are not the culprit. To do so, you must write a 500 – 1,000-word alibi. 

  • The alibi has to be imaginative, but also believable. Adele, Jon, and Melissa have vivid imaginations, themselves.
  • Use the same writerly talents—indeed the very talents that put you on the late, unlamented Mr. Herman Mildew’s radar in the first place—to describe exactly what you were doing when he was (paraphrasing, not quoting Jon Scieszka): “done in, cut down, rubbed out, bumped off, put away, dispatched, exterminated, eradicated, liquidated, assassinated, fixed, dropped, croaked, or killed.”
  • Want examples of how some other writers—whom you might know—handled their alibis? Read the protestations of Libba Bray, Dave Eggers, John Green, Lev Grossman, Maureen Johnson, and many more.


The nitty-gritty details:

Your challenge:

In 500 to 1,000 words, following the guidelines above, write your alibi in Herman Mildew’s murder.

You must be between 13 and 18 years old to enter.

How to Enter:

1. Read the full rules.
2. Create an account on Figment.com.
3. Start a new writing of 500 to 1,000 words.
4. Tag your writing with WhoDoneIt on the Details tab.
5. Press “Publish Now.”
6. You should receive a pop-up confirmation of your entry, and in about two hours or so, your piece should appear among the submissions.


You have until Monday, October 8 at 11:59 p.m. ET to enter your story. Voting will run until Monday, October 15 at 5:00 p.m. ET. The top 30 most-hearted finalists will be sent to Adele Griffin, Jon Scieszka, and Melissa Walker, who will select the winners.


The grand-prize winner will receive the following:

  • $1,000
  • A one-page editorial letter from literary agent Suzie Townsend (New Leaf Literary Agency) who will read up to 8,000 words of your original work. Any form of writing will be accepted: short stories, excerpt from a novel, poems, essays, etc. Both published and unpublished work will be accepted for review.
  • An invitation for the winner and a parent or guardian to the SohoTeen launch party in New York City on November 29, 2012, where the winner will get a personal half-hour chat with Jon Scieszca. (If the winner cannot attend, he or she will win a half-hour phone conversation with Jon.)

Eight runners-up will each receive a copy of Who Done It?.

Contest Entries

Show all entries »

107 thoughts on “Who Done It? Alibi Contest

  1. Wow, this looks cool. I’m not sure if I’m doing NaNoWriMo this year or not, so I’m glad to have an opportunity to write something shorter and get back in the swing of writing!

  2. If we mention terms such as “Gatsby”, “All About Eve”, “Bette Davis”, “Chevy Camero”, and “USPS”, does that count on infringing upon property rights?

    • Hey Jackie-

      Your entry can “not infringe upon any third-party copyrights or other intellectual property rights.” If unsure whether or not a specific reference violates this rule, your safest bet is to remove the reference.

      • How would we, or the judges for that matter, check if these held copyrights? Most of the terms seem old enough to be public domain, and sort of play an integral part of shaping out the story.

  3. Wait, wait, wait… I get that there are 30 finalists, but still.

    A heart-based contest with a LITERARY AGENT involved as part of the prize?

    So basically, the people who always ask for hearts will soar to new heights in their relentless wall-spamming and heart-begging, and they’ll get to the finals regardless of the quality of their work. Meanwhile, incredible entries will be buried and never read because their authors have school or work or anything involving life outside of Figment.


    • Right? I hate these heart based contests. I’ve entered ONE since I joined Figment (this was like 3 months ago that I entered) and I’m STILL trying to catch up on the swaps I asked for so I could get hearts.

    • Also agreed. Unfortunately, Figment has become so popular that there’s no way the judges could read all the entries. I think heart-based contests are very unfair, but I don’t see how else they could do it unless they hired people to read entries all day. I also wish the eligibility of age would have been sooner, before I read it all. 😛

      • maybe have a computer randomly choose the top ten. at least everyone would have a chance to win and that way no writers can win twice in a row.

        • Mmm yeah but that wouldn’t necessarily have very good outcomes considering the proportion of good entries to somewhat sloppier entries. . . . .at least you know the top 10 swappers put in time and effort and really wanted to win.

          This is why I think the pick system was more effective – since you had a limited number of picks (5), you were sure to use those votes wisely on books you actually enjoyed. Also, with trendsetter calculations, you had a stake in picking out good-quality pieces that had potential. Just like the stock market.

          With unlimited hearts, people can easily and painlessly click “heart” on people’s pieces.

  4. Hello,

    I am the secondary librarian at Luanda International School, and I would like to share this contest with my students. Our students population comes from 50 different countries around the world. My questions is, do you have to be American to qualify to participate in/win this contest?

    Thank you,

    • Hey Katy!

      To enter, participants must be US or Canadian residents. We’re legally unable to open this contest to non-residents!


  5. I’m SO excited for this! I do online school and while I was taking my break I decided to skim through the contest page. I read this and I got so pumped! I couldn’t even focus on school work. My mind was too busy exploring possible ideas! Okay … enough chattering for me, I’ve go to get to writing! :D.

  6. If this weren’t a heart-based contest, I would have entered the moment I saw it open. However, when it is heart-based, especially for a prize such as this, one would have to write something ASAP, like on the first day, withing hours of it being posted, and work on getting hearts non-stop even while the entry period is still open to be able to even be in the running. When you have to work on a project that quickly, the quality is nowhere near where it could be and perhaps should be, and those who put more effort and time into theiring get stuck in the barren wasteland slugpile of entries. Especially for these kinds of contests, we should refrain from quite as many heart contests. The reason why I don’t even attempt heart contests if because I’m still in school and have at least 2 hours of hw every night, if not more. I can’t be spending all my time getting hearts. I do admit though that heart contests are a good way to force people to read other people’s stuff, and I have found tons of great writers through these contests, but there might be two entries of the same caliber, but one has 200 hearts and the other has 2 because the second just doesn’t have the resources or time to get this kind of thing on the road. Something to think about…

    • Thank You, I totally agree! I was planning to enter and now I won’t have enough time to try to get hearts. So it goes. Even if it is an amazing contest with some of my favorite writers. It’s a shame. They need more contest rules like the Defy the Dark. That way its actually based on the quality of the work. And not the quality of the popularity.

  7. Help, I didn’t get a pop up conformation and I have been trying for at least 10 minutes. I even copy and pasted the words WhoDoneIt from this page into the details tab and still nothing. Could someone help me please?

    • Hey Wendy-

      As long as your story:
      -was created after the announcement of the contest
      -is tagged correctly
      -is published (not saved as a draft)

      You’re entered!

  8. So, wait a second…this might be a stupid question, but is the editor really dead, or is he just a made up character to create the contest?

  9. I HAVE to enter now that I have read the prizes, but darn that heart-based thing!
    Heart-based contests are so unfair because most of the people who get into the finals aren’t near as good as those who didn’t. The finalists are always cheaters who do heart-based swaps in the like and those of us with morals and possibly better stories get pushed to the bottom. Jeez. When did having morals and doing things fairly get to be a person’s downfall and reason for losing?
    So unfair. I think heart-based contests should be illegal. Outlaw heart-based swaps. I am gonna start a group about that.
    ~Kyla Marie Rich : )

  10. It’s really nice of Figment to host these contests for us. We shouldn’t complain just because they can’t read hundreds of entries. The heart-based system may not be the most equal way but it does show persistance and non-quality works wouldn’t be able to get so many hearts. It’s rude to say that just because it’s a heart based contest that the winner will be a “spammer” and “heart begger”. A lot of figgies are really talented.

    • There’s always to sides to the story, sweetie. Theoretically, the heart-based system is a perfect idea. But unforuntately, this is no perfect world. An amazing story with fabulous plot, dynamic characters, and a fabulous theme might not get picked simply because they are unable to compete with another writer whose written an average piece but spent hours getting hearts from others. Said average writer might have a chance at winning a prize they don’t deserve. The heart system would be fine if the prizes weren’t so grand. But lets face it, this is $1000, an editorial letter, and a trip to New York. That’s when people get frustrated. And what about contests without hearts? Defy the Dark being the exception, prizes for contests that aren’t heart-based just aren’t as exciting or motivating.

  11. Can you explain what you mean by “editorial letter”? I’m just curious as to what that would entail. Like, is it constructive criticism on your work, or is it done more like a bona-fide book review, where she just gives her opinion on whether or not your writing is good?

  12. Im too old for this contest unfortunately but its not fair that this is heart based. The rule for figment should go back where you cant promote contest entries. Its not fair… Nobody stands a chance and the same people will just keep winning.

  13. Hi everyone!
    I agree with you all: heart-based contests are really unfair… >.< But, I liked the prompt so much that I just had to write a short story for it though I never win because it's heart-based; regardless, there's always a slight chance, so please help me out and read/heart-only-if-you-like "De Jure Innocent". Thank you!!

  14. Okay, this comment is probably really random, but…

    I’m so sad that this book isn’t published yet!! I really wanted to use it for my Humorous Interpretation in my debate class this year, and now I can’t b/c I can’t get ahold of a copy yet.

    *sigh* Next year, I suppose.

    Darn it. Now I really want to win, or be an runner up. The sooner I get a copy, the happier I’ll be, lol.

  15. Yeah, yeah, heart-based contests are unfair. But people who rely on pointless swaps to get hearts won’t get their writing really anywhere. People who beg for hearts don’t get in-depth reviews, and good luck aspiring authors who beg for swaps. You won’t get anywhere either because that doesn’t work in the real world.

    That’s just how I look at it. And I will probably do this contest to practice using my writing skills, though there’s no way I’ll win. It’s just for fun.

    Good luck everyone!

  16. I said I wouldn’t do it, because I abhor heart based contests.

    But this is the kind of prompt that I just can’t pass up! I love a good murder mystery! Good luck to those who’ve entered!

  17. i could join the galloping masses and complain that it’s heart-based, but hey, at least i’ll get some good writing out of it! even if i am getting up there a bit late

  18. I would completely go for this if it weren’t a heart based contest. COMPLETELY go for it.

    However, heart based contests aren’t about whose quality of writing is best, it’s about who can spam the most pages and beg for the most hearts. Which makes me sad because I would really have loved to enter. Yes, I could enter, but since it’s largely a popularity contest and I don’t have time to go around pleading on everyone’s profile, (because I have full length novels to edit), my odds would likely suffer anyhow.

    One can only hope for the day when judges actually take all of the entries into consideration. Oh well.

  19. Are we allowed to fix things in our submissions? People have pointed out some of my typo’s and I’d really like to fix it but I’m scared I’ll get disqualified or something!

  20. I have a question concerning this contest and my profile.
    Once the DefytheDark contest ends, I’m planning on deleting my current Figment account to start afresh on a new one. My concern is: can I enter this contest on my new, alternate account even though I already have an account? I don’t want to put anything new on my current account. Can I do this?

  21. Let’s draw up a charter to switch “hearts” back to limited “picks” and boycott all heart-based contests until Figment pretends to listen to the 90+ above comments complaining about the unfairness! LOL Who has several months of dedicated, uncommitted free time in the following months to organize a proper strike??? Anyone??

    OH DRAT NEVER MIND. It’s that early American history getting to my brain again… lol

    *off to study*

    Cool contest, though! Too bad such an amazing website pays so little attention to our (very reasonable and polite!) pleas. Best wishes to all who enter!

    • Hey!

      I promise you that we hear every single voice that posts on this blog, writes in the forums, or emails. We understand that many users are uninterested in heart-based contests and for many different reasons. At this time, however, we are unable to offer consistent short-story-length contests that are not heart-based. We continue to offer newsletter and flash-fiction contests that do not depend on hearts because the shorter length makes staff-judging possible. We definitely noticed how well-received the “Defy The Dark” contest was, and we hope to offer similar contests in the future though, as I said, they are unlikely to become the norm due to the massive time commitment required to read millions of words and thousands of pages of writing. Thank you for your feedback and let me know if I can help with anything else.


      • Thanks Emily for chiming in! While we figgies understand it’s impossible to have every contest picked through by pros, we have also witnessed how heart-based contests cheapen the quality of winning entries, de-emphasize bettering one’s writing, and provide limited faireness, overall.

        Many of us (as Jackie brought up, above) simply hearken back to a better day, when the limited number of “picks” a user was allowed to make made them READ the stories and THINK WISELY about their choices, and spend their favors more carefully. Although, in certain systems, unchecked democracy (popular opinion) has its merits, unlimited hearting will always inevitably leave the winning power in the hands of some young writer (who should probably be spending their life better!) spending hours on the computer to up their ‘heart’ scores, and not improving their writing.

        For a website that is primarily a writing community, it is a shame that more effort is spent marketing marginal products than perfecting good writing.

        Just my two cents. Our discontent, then, is not with Figment, which is a wonderful site we probably all wish we had more time to spend on, and less time doing calculus homework! 😉

        Thanks a million!

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