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Naperville author wins 2023 Soon to Be Famous Illinois Author Project

written by Tess Kenny
appeared on the front page of the Naperville Sun - January 24, 2024

Naperville author Angelique Burrell is the winner of the 2023 Soon to Be Famous Illinois Author Project.

Burrell, selected from among three finalists, won the statewide writing competition for her debut novel, “A Mark in the Road.”

“I’m astounded,” Burrell said Tuesday, just after hearing the news. “Certainly, I was honored to be nominated but winning was just beyond all of my expectations. … I’m so completely shocked.”

Established in 2013, the Soon to Be Famous Illinois Author Project is a celebration of self- or indie-published authors across the state. It was started by a group of librarians in northern Illinois who wanted to demonstrate how important self-published books can be in the lives of readers.

Library professionals still run the contest today.

Every year for the past decade, the project has enticed Illinois writers to submit their books to be evaluated by a panel of volunteer librarian judges. The venture is also coordinated in collaboration with the Illinois Library Association and the Reaching Across Illinois Library System.

When Burrell first heard that she was named a 2023 finalist earlier this month, she said she couldn’t believe it.

“I was thrilled and so honored because it is difficult to be a writer when you’re putting something out there, and there’s that idea of rejection and (whether) people are going to like it — there’s all of that self-doubt that goes into it,” she said. “So it was just uplifting to find out that I was a finalist.”

Burrell, a longtime resident of Naperville, has dabbled in writing for most of her life. For years, she scratched her passion for writing in the classroom. A high school English teacher for the past three decades, Burrell has long shared her love for writing with her students.

But about 10 years ago, she decided she was going to focus on her craft and write a book. That’s how “A Mark in the Road” began.

Published in October 2023, “A Mark in the Road” is a young adult thriller. It tells the story of 18-year-old Mason, who can see the stories behind skid marks left in the road, Burrell said.

“If he goes over them, (what happened) plays out in his mind,” she said.

The book follows Mason as he goes on a cross-country road trip from Naperville to Nevada, and the stories he sees along the way.

The concept was inspired by Burrell’s own road trips with her family.

“Our trips … were kind of the fuel for it and just kind of created the story,” she said. “(I crafted) a lot of it while we were driving, just in my mind while we were on the road.”

Burrell said her debut novel was made possible by her publisher and her agent, but also the support she’s received from friends and neighbors, one of whom helped design the cover of “A Mark in the Road.”

A few weeks ago, Burrell was featured in a local author showcase at Anderson’s Bookshop in downtown Naperville. Burrell’s book is now available at Anderson’s as well as the Naperville Public Library.

“It’s been a group project, I would say,” she said.

As the winner of the Soon to Be Famous Illinois Author Project’s 2023 competition, Burrell will receive $2,000 and the opportunity to promote her book at Illinois public libraries.

Burrell said she didn’t even know about the prize. She was just happy to win.

“Getting anything else is just a bonus,” she said.

Accolades aside, Burrell said what makes this honor especially rewarding is it’s an affirmation as much as it is an award.

“It definitely gives kind of a new sense of energy to my writing,” she said, “to maybe just trust myself a little bit more. … It helps me remember that it’s OK to be me as a writer.”

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