First Chapter Contest





Entry Title

Author Name


Grand Prize

Together for Our Good: The Gift Grief Gave Me

Mandy Ballard

Adult Speculative

First Place

Feathers Sharp as Knives

Kris Atkins

Adult Speculative

Second Place

What Goes Down Always Comes Up

Risto Snow

Adult Speculative

Third Place


Jessica Kendall

Mystery & Suspense

First Place


Eve Polder

Mystery & Suspense

Second Place

The Silver Apple Inn

Garaghty Bayne

Mystery & Suspense

Third Place

Fatal Request

Erin Harden


First Place

Love, Ducks & Rock n’ Roll

Grace Ellis Barber


Second Place

Loved by A Darcy

Marjorie Harris & Kathleen Cummings


Third Place

These Broken Threads

Jill Warner

General & Historical

First Place

This Side of Silence

Nichole Stanton

General & Historical

Second Place

Finding Normal

Marlene Willis

General & Historical

Third Place

A Talent of Gold

Ruth L. Pagán

YA General & Historical

First Place

The Innocence Project

Debbie Olsen

YA General & Historical

Second Place

Thing That I Am

Paul Warburton

YA General & Historical

Third Place

The Blood Sport of Unicorn Academy

Jen Hutchins

YA Sci-fi & Dystopian

First Place

Power Vacuum

Lauren Green

YA Sci-fi & Dystopian

Second Place


Steve Carroll

YA Sci-fi & Dystopian

Third Place

Escaping the Uncanny Valley

Derrick Duncan

YA Contemporary Fantasy

First Place

Just My Luck

Gina Larsen

YA Contemporary Fantasy

Second Place


Katie Harris

YA Contemporary Fantasy

Third Place

Midnight Swan

Laura Lamoreaux

YA Historical & Epic Fantasy

First Place


Adam Berg

YA Historical & Epic Fantasy

Second Place

The Charcoal Horizon

Trish LeBaron

YA Historical & Epic Fantasy

Third Place

A Soul to Steal

Bambie Childs

Middle Grade

First Place

The Paper Ballerina

Chrissy Cornwell

Middle Grade

Second Place

Philo on the Mountain

Amanda K Davis

Middle Grade

Third Place


Amy Sandbak


First Place

Running is Bad for You

Julia Allen


Second Place

Sorrow That the Eye Can’t See

Emily Adams


Third Place

Goals With Kids

Nichole Eck & LeAnn Hunt



Make sure to scroll all the way down for complete rules and instructions!

What You Should Know: The first chapter contest is for official registrants of the 2020 Storymakers Conference only.

What You Pay: $25 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 non-refundable.

What You Get: A critique* from each of your category’s three judges! A 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: February 6th, 2020, at 10 p.m. 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 less (cover pages and non-fiction footnotes/endnotes do not count toward word count). Detailed instructions and examples can be found below. Make sure you scroll all the way down!

What You Could Win:

    • Cash prizes for the top three places in each category (at least $200.00 for Grand Prize).
    • “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)




  1.   Entrants must be registered attendees of the 2020 Storymakers Conference.
  2.   All entries must be the original work of the author (quotes are allowable if sources are included, and count towards overall word-count). Co-authored entries are only permitted if both authors are registered attendees.
  3.   Not Eligible:
  • 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 with detailed information. The conference committee may vote to grant entry for rare exceptions.



The following entries will be disqualified:

  1. Chapters from sequels. If your entry is part of a series, please submit the first chapter of the FIRST manuscript only.
  2. Chapters from books that 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.
  3. 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)
  4. Chapters with the author’s name anywhere in the body, header, or footer of the chapter. If writing memoir non-fiction, please use a pseudonym.
  5. 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.
  6. Entries that are not paid for prior to the contest deadline of 10 p.m. MST, February 6, 2020. Please pay prior to submitting.
  7. Entries that exceed the maximum number of contest entries (3), or the maximum number per category (2).



Your entry will lose points (but will not be disqualified) if not submitted correctly.


  • 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—please scroll to the bottom of the page.

Entry Form

  • 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


You will not lose points for spacing or alignment variations.

To earn full points, your cover page must include:

  • Title
  • Category name
  • Word count (must be below 3000, rounding is acceptable)


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 non-fiction footnotes)

For judges’ ease in reading, please make sure there are NO tracked changes remaining in your document.


 CATEGORY 1 – ADULT SPECULATIVE – Adult speculative fiction set in any time period.

CATEGORY 2 – MYSTERY & SUSPENSE – Adult fiction with a predominant mystery or suspense arc set in the past or present with no speculative elements.

CATEGORY 3 – ROMANCE – Adult fiction with a predominant romance arc set in the past or present with no speculative elements.

CATEGORY 4 – GENERAL & HISTORICAL – Adult fiction set in the past or present with no speculative elements and not featuring a predominant romance or mystery/suspense arc.

CATEGORY 5 – YOUNG ADULT GENERAL & HISTORICAL – Teen fiction set in the past or present with no speculative elements.

CATEGORY 6 – YOUNG ADULT SCIENCE FICTION & DYSTOPIAN – Teen speculative fiction dealing with the impact of actual/imagined science or set in the future.

CATEGORY 7 – YOUNG ADULT CONTEMPORARY FANTASY – Teen speculative fiction set in the present.

CATEGORY 8 – YOUNG ADULT HISTORICAL FANTASY & EPIC FANTASY – Teen speculative fiction set in the past.

CATEGORY 9 – MIDDLE GRADE – Children’s fiction set in any time period, with or without speculative elements.

CATEGORY 10 – NON-FICTION – Memoir, How-to, Inspirational, etc . . .


MG: Characters in elementary (lower MG) and middle school (upper MG). (MC age is generally, 8-14)

YA: Characters who have not yet graduated high school (or the speculative equivalent) and are experiencing internal conflicts centered on identity and purpose. (MC age is generally 15-18)

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. MC age 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.

If You Have:

Registered for the conference

Paid for your entry/entries

Carefully read through all the above

Then submit your entry form(s) by:

10 p.m. MST on February 6th, 2020

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.*


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 short story, or a collection of poems and limericks?

Alas, the first chapter contest is for first chapters only!

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.

I’m submitting a non-fiction 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. Non-fiction judges have been advised that pseudonyms are acceptable, and your entry will not be disqualified.

Can I use footnotes and/or endnotes in my non-fiction entry?

Yes! And the content of your footnotes and endnotes does not count towards word count.

Can I submit a non-fiction short story that’s equivalent to a chapter in length?

Short answer: No. Long answer: The first chapter of a non-fiction book serves a different purpose than a self-contained short story. The contest is for first chapters only.

Can I use footnotes in my fiction entry?

We generally advise against this, but exceptions have been made in the past for middle grade stories 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:

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 (with proper citation, any style), you’ll require certain permissions before it can be published. Judges may advise you accordingly, but you will not be docked points.

If my chapter is less than 3,000 words, should I send some of Chapter Two to make up the difference?

Please don’t! Judges will be judging first chapters only.

Will I be penalized if my chapter is significantly shorter than 3000 words?

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.

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.

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?

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.

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.

What’s with the name pronunciation box? Do I have to fill it out?

The name pronunciation box is optional, but we’d really like to say your name correctly if we announce you as a winner. Please use the most obvious phonetic spellings, and we’ll do our best to get it right!


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!

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]!”

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.

Submission Form

What file types are we allowed to submit?

.doc, .docx, and Google Docs are all allowable. No .wps or .pdf files.

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 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.

Why do you keep changing things? We’ve been emailing 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!

Payments & Procedures

I need to cancel my entry. Can you do that for me? Can I get my money back?

First chapter entries are non-refundable unless there are compelling extenuating circumstances. You’ll need to email our fabulous registration people at Please also notify us at

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’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.

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! Please be patient. The contest inbox is checked daily during contest season, but isn’t manned on an hourly basis.