first chapter contest
Important rules, dates, and deadlines…
- Make sure to read the FULL PAGE for complete rules and instructions
- What You Should Know: The first chapter contest is for official registrants of the 2023 Storymakers Conference only.
- What You Pay: $35 per entry. Entries may be purchased during or after registration, but must be purchased prior to the contest deadline. Limit 3 total entries per attendee (only 2 entries allowed in the same category). Entry fees are nonrefundable.
- What You Get: A critique* from each of your category’s three judges, qualified industry professionals committed to helping writers grow! Plus the chance to win 1st, 2nd, or 3rd place in your category (or Grand Prize!). *Critiques will be emailed within one week of the conference ending.
- When To Submit Your Entry: By February 10th, 2023, 11:59pm MST.
- How You Submit: A Google form entry using the form at bottom of this page, with your first chapter file attached. Chapters must be 3,000 words or fewer (cover pages and nonfiction footnotes/endnotes do not count toward word count). Detailed instructions and examples can be found further below on this page. Please make sure to read everything!
- What You Could Win: Cash prizes for the top entry and top three places in each category. “Get Out of the Slushpile Free” cards from select publishers (varies by category). Partial or Full Manuscript Requests from agents/editors (varies by category). Mystery Prizes donated by generous sponsors (varies by category)
Entrants must be registered attendees, virtual or in-person, of the 2023 Storymakers Conference. Co-authored entries are only permitted if both authors are registered attendees.
All entries must be the original work of the author (quotes are allowable if sources are included, and count towards the overall word-count).
- Published authors. Defined as any author who has signed a publishing contract by the contest deadline (exceptions: short stories, compilations, or magazine articles). This includes ghostwriters. Posting your work online does not classify you as published.
- Agented authors. Defined as any author who is represented by a literary agent, whether or not they have sold a book.
- Self-published authors who have reached/exceeded a compensation level of $250 net profit. NOTE: Authors are responsible for checking their own income.
Authors who wish to enter but aren’t sure they qualify due to unusual circumstances can email us with detailed information. The conference committee may vote to grant entry for rare exceptions.
- Submit a separate form for each entry if submitting multiple entries. Points will be deducted from your overall score if you submit multiple files with one form.
- Save file with this filename format: category#-Title. Points will be deducted from your overall score if you submit your entry with an incorrect filename.
- Example of correct filename: 03-WillNerdForLove
- When uploading your file, you may upload a file from your computer or directly from your Google Drive. This will make a copy of the file in our Google Drive. Please format the file name correctly.
PROPER COVER PAGE FORMAT: You will not lose points for spacing or alignment variations.
To earn full points, your cover page must include:
- Category Name
- Word Count (must be below 3,000 – rounding is acceptable)
PROPER INTERNAL FORMAT: You will be judged based on the basic criteria listed below ONLY.
To earn full points for proper formatting, your entry must have:
- 12 point, black, Times New Roman font
- 1-inch margins, double-spaced lines (with no extra space between paragraphs), and indented paragraphs
- Nothing in header or footer except page # (with an exception for nonfiction footnotes)
Please make sure there are NO tracked changes or comments remaining in your document.
- Adult Speculative
- YA General/Historical
- YA Sci-Fi/Dystopian
- YA Contemporary Fantasy
- YA Historical Fantasy/Epic Fantasy
- MG General/Historical
- MG Speculative
Your entry will lose points (but will not be disqualified) if not submitted correctly.
Prologues: It has been determined that prologues are too varied in composition to be disqualified on a general basis. However, judge feedback may be limited, and scoring may be adversely affected if your “first chapter” is not from the main character’s point of view, is significantly outside the timeline of the main story, and/or is too short to contain the elements that make for an effective first chapter. Further details are available in our FAQ at the bottom of the page.
CONTENT & PROSE SCORING: The majority of your score comes from your content and prose, rated on a scale of 1-10 in the following categories:
- Setting & Mood
Judges also give feedback on each area of the content section and the overall prose. As we tell the judges, the scores determine this year’s winners, but the feedback helps to shape next year’s winners!
TIE BREAKERS: In the event of a tie for the grand prize, the tie will be broken by a vote of the conference committee. Prizes may be awarded as a tie within categories, or ties may be broken by judges and/or the conference committee. Awards of special merit, honorable mentions and other awards, as well as the distribution of prizes, are at the discretion of the contest committee based upon judges’ scores and donated prizes. Entries remain anonymous until after all judging is complete.
The following entries will be disqualified:
- Chapters from sequels. If your entry is part of a series, please submit the first chapter of the FIRST manuscript only.
- Chapters from books that have already placed. If your chapter placed in a previous year, you may not enter a chapter from the same book, even if it is substantially revised or completely new.
- Chapters with graphic language, extreme violence, or sex scenes. (Individual judges will have their own definitions of what constitutes “graphic” or “extreme.” If a judge flags an entry, the contest committee will evaluate the chapter and make a ruling.)
- Chapters with the author’s name anywhere in the body, header, or footer of the chapter. Please ensure there are no edits or comments left in the chapter. If writing memoir nonfiction, please use a pseudonym.
- Chapters that exceed the word count limit of 3,000 words. You may submit an abridged version or cut off at the 3,000-word mark based on your preference.
- Entries that are not paid for prior to the contest deadline of February 10th, 2023 at 11:59pm MST. Please pay prior to submitting.
- Entries that exceed the maximum number of contest entries per author (3), or the maximum number per category per author (2).
Disqualified entries are not eligible to place in the contest or receive prizes. Disqualified entries are nonrefundable. Disqualified entries may or may not still receive some or all of their judges’ feedback. Entrants may not be notified about their entry’s disqualification.
A category with fewer than ten (10) entries may be combined with another category with the same audience. If that is not possible, the category will be discontinued and entry fees will be refunded.
Middle Grade: Characters in elementary (lower MG) and middle school (upper MG). (Main character is generally 8-14 years old.)
Young Adult: Characters who have not yet graduated high school (or the speculative equivalent) and are experiencing internal conflicts centered on identity and purpose. (Main character is generally 15-18 years old.)
Adult: Characters who are usually 18 and above (with notable exceptions) and are struggling with internal conflicts and story themes that reach beyond questions of identity and purpose. (Main character is generally 18 and older.)
Speculative Fiction is an umbrella genre encompassing narrative fiction with supernatural or futuristic elements. This includes, but is not limited to, science fiction, fantasy, superhero fiction, science fantasy, horror, utopian and dystopian fiction, supernatural fiction as well as combinations thereof.
First Chapter FAQ
What if the genre-specific elements in my book don’t come in until after the first chapter? Should I put it in a more general category?
As winning entries will receive manuscript requests from agents and/or editors who represent those categories, and the authors judging the categories are experienced with those specific genres, calling your book what it is will serve you best.
Note: Your first chapter is a promise to your reader. Make sure you’re making a promise you can keep! If there are no speculative elements in the first chapter of your speculative story, for instance, maybe you’re starting your story too soon? If there’s no hint of mystery in the first chapter of your mystery novel, perhaps you need to work your inciting incident in sooner?
Recommendation: Study the opening chapters of your favorite books in your genre and get a sense of what genre norms are.
Can I submit the first scene of a screenplay, a collection of poems or limericks, or a screenplay?
Alas, the first chapter contest is for first chapters only! Novels in verse are eligible, however.
Can I submit two versions of the same chapter?
We love you, but we love our judges too, so no. Also, we like to keep the playing field as level as possible, and this would give a significant competitive advantage to entrants who can afford multiple entries.
Why aren’t there more precise details about the prizes?
We won’t know how much we have available to award as cash prizes until we know how many people have entered, and prize donations happen throughout the contest season and can be difficult to predict.
Can I submit a prologue? I heard the “No Prologue” rule was changed.
Yes. And maybe no. The prologue rule has changed to a guideline, as many publishers now publish “first chapters” which are from a different POV than the main character, and/or are outside the timeline of the main storyline. Please consider the following when deciding whether to enter your “Prologue First Chapter”:
- Is it from the POV of your main character? If not, will the POV of a different character compare well with other chapters in your age category and genre? For example, should the “first chapter” of your gritty YA Epic Fantasy be from the POV of the elderly midwife who brought your main character into the world? Or would a teenage POV compete more favorably?
- Does your “first chapter” contain all the elements of a compelling first chapter, or is it more of a teaser to show your reader how cool the world of your story is? Is there a strong opening and ending hook? An inciting incident? A sense of conflict? Strong character development? A vivid setting rich with sensory details?
I placed in a previous year. Why can’t I re-enter a revised version of my chapter this year? What if it’s completely different material?
It’s our belief that once a book has supplied a winning chapter, it’s had its turn in the spotlight. However, we welcome chapters from different books you’d like to enter that haven’t placed in previous contest years.
Formatting: Does my entry have to have a title?
A title is not required, no. You can put “Untitled” where the title would normally go in your entry, and your score won’t be affected. However, if you place in the contest, your winning entry will be announced as, “Untitled, by [Insert Name]!”
I’m submitting two entries in the same category. Can’t I just submit them using the same form?
Please, please, please don’t do that. Each individual entry requires its own form so as not to throw things off on a contest admin level. For this reason, entrants who submit multiple files using one form will have points deducted from their overall score.
I need to cancel my entry. Can you do that for me? Can I get my money back?
First chapter entries are nonrefundable unless there are compelling extenuating circumstances. You’ll need to email our fabulous registration people through our general email. Please also notify our First Chapter team through their email.
What if I’m suddenly unable to attend the conference due to an emergency and I win?
If your registration is not cancelled and you are simply unable to attend, you will receive your judge feedback and will still qualify to place in the contest. You may deputize someone to accept potential prizes on your behalf, or you may supply us with your mailing address so we can mail your prize money and award certificate to you.
If your registration is cancelled due to extenuating circumstances, you will receive your judge feedback but will no longer qualify to place in the contest.
Formatting: What about widow/orphan control? How should ellipses be formatted, or scene breaks, quotes, or text conversations? What font should my page numbers be in? Will I be docked points for [fill in the blank]?
You will not be docked points for any formatting issues not specifically addressed in the first chapter contest rules. Judges who are going above and beyond might give you detailed advice about more advanced formatting, but basic manuscript formatting is all you’ll be scored on.
What if I don’t want my real name called out if I win? I could be in the Witness Relocation Program, you know. Or maybe I just really hate my legal name. What do I do?
We’ve provided a “Pen Name” option, for those who registered using their legal name, but who wish to have their “Chosen Name” announced in the event of placing in the contest.
I’m submitting a nonfiction memoir entry and need to use my name in it, but that’s against the rules. What do I do?
Please use a pseudonym in your entry to maintain anonymity. Nonfiction judges have been advised that pseudonyms are acceptable, and your entry will not be disqualified.
Can I use footnotes in my fiction entry?
We generally advise against this, but exceptions have been made in the past for chapters with commentary from the narrator in footnote form. Fiction footnotes do count towards your word count, and we ask that you advise the contest committee before submitting. Please email us here.
Can I use a quote in my chapter?
You certainly can! Just be aware the quote counts towards your word count limit, and if you are quoting an outside source, you’ll require certain permissions before it can be published. Judges may advise you accordingly, but you will not be docked points.
Will I be penalized if my chapter cuts off at 3000 words and obviously isn’t complete?
Streamlined chapters that end on a compelling hook may have a greater competitive edge than chapters that cut off abruptly. However, receiving feedback on an unabridged version of your chapter may be more valuable to you. This is very much a personal call based on your prime motivation for entering.
Formatting: I can’t figure out how to get my page #’s to start with 1 on the first page of my chapter instead of my cover sheet. What do I do?
Google is your friend. Also, the Storymakers First Chapter Support Group is a great resource for this kind of technical help!
What file types are we allowed to submit?
.doc, .docx, and Google docs are all allowable. No .wps or .pdf files.
If my chapter is fewer than 3,000 words, should I send some of Chapter Two to make up the difference?
All chapters, regardless of length, will be judged based on the craft elements that make for a compelling first chapter. Length is no predictor of quality, but an overly short chapter could be lacking those elements.
Why do you keep changing things? We’ve been emailing our entries for YEARS.
We’ve switched to Google Forms for a number of reasons:
- Reduction of human error. As the information on the form is required, it won’t allow you to submit your entry with missing information. This reduces stress for entrants and for contest admin.
- Submitting entries via Google form automatically uploads the files to our Google Drive, significantly reducing the workload for our hard-working volunteers.
- We now have a “One Stop Shop” for all contest information. The contest rules, entry form, and links to the FAQ and FB Support Group can all be found in one place. Spiffy!
Are winners informed prior to the announcement at the conference?
Nope! We want to see the shock and awe on your faces. We’re selfish like that.
What if I have a question that wasn’t answered here?
We have anticipated our inability to anticipate all your needs and welcome you to email us at our First Chapter email. Please be patient. The contest inbox is checked daily during contest season but isn’t manned on an hourly basis.
if you have:
- Registered for the conference and paid for your entry/entries
- Carefully read through all the above
- Then submit your entry form(s) by:
- 11:59 pm MST on February 10, 2023
- Late entries will NOT be accepted, and entry fees will not be refunded.
*By submitting your entry, you acknowledge you have read and understood the above rules*