Congratulations to the 2024 Winners!

Click here to discover the winners and read their winning chapters.

Next submission period: Feb 3 – March 3, 2025

What are the prizes?

First Prize = $1,000 

Second Prize = $500

Third Prize = $250

All prizes are in US dollars and will be paid out via PayPal.

When will the winners be announced?

Winners and honorable mentions will be announced on Friday, March 29, 2024 here on the website, via social media, and via email. All writers who submitted will be alerted via email on March 29.

Is there an entry fee?

Yes. $20 USD paid by either credit card or PayPal—you'll pay after you fill out your submission form.

Do you ever waive the entry fees?

No, I don’t offer discounted or free entries into the prizes I administer. I am a working writer myself, and believe strongly in compensating artists for their time and effort (including paying myself), which is why I charge an entry fee.

There are many costs associated with offering the prize: prize money; an annual Submittable account fee plus a per entry fee; advertising; website expenses; customer relationship, marketing and app-connecting online applications; administrative support; and my own time and expertise, which goes into all aspects of marketing, administering, and judging the prize.

There are many prizes out there that do not require an entry fee. Here are some great places to find them:
Poets & Writers database
Reedsy List of Contests
And, of course, you can Google “free writing contests” and find all sorts of opportunities!

Will I receive feedback on my submission?

No. There are far too many entries totaling an awful lot of pages, and the amount of time and consideration it would take for Joan to provide valuable feedback on all the submissions would take more than a month of full time work, which she simply can't afford. (She's working on a novel, too, and teaches online classes and run an online community and writing retreat . . . not enough hours in the day). Joan does provide in-depth, detailed feedback on opening first pages in the Write a Gripping First Page online class

How do I know this competition is legitimate?

Because of the unfortunate fact that some unscrupulous people run contest scams, legitimacy is an appropriate concern. As you'll see on the Judging Process page, this competition abides by the industry standard Code of Ethics as established by the Council of Literary Magazines and Presses. And here is an even more detailed accounting of how the judging is conducted. If you have any questions at all, please don't hesitate to reach out to Joan Dempsey: [email protected].

How should I format my chapter? Is there a word count?

There is no word count. 

Please submit only the complete first chapter of your novel-in-progress (no title pages, dedication, prologues or introductions—chapter one only). Fiction only.

Format your submission as follows (this is industry standard for manuscript submissions):

– 8.5” x 11” or A-4 page

– 1-inch (2.54 cm) margins all around

– 12-point font (use your preferred font)

– Double-spaced (not 1.5 or 1.15 spacing) with no extra spaces between paragraphs (extra space for section breaks is allowed). NOTE: If you're working in Word, there's a setting that sometimes automatically puts an extra space between paragraphs, and you can change that in your Word settings to get rid of that extra space. Click here for a 45 second video that shows you how.)

Submittable accepts the following types of documents (when in doubt, save your chapter as a PDF to preserve the formatting): .doc, .docx, .odt, .pdf.

Please note: if your formatting is not exactly as specified above, your entry won't be considered and you'll forfeit your $20 submission fee.

I don't really have chapters—can I still submit?

Yes. Choose a natural breaking point at the opening of your novel and submit the pages preceding that breaking point.

What about indenting paragraphs?

Indent your paragraphs however you normally do.

Do I really submit only the first chapter of my novel? 

Yes, as the prize title suggests, you'll simply submit only the first chapter of your novel-in-progress (fiction only). Please do not include title pages, dedications, prologues, introductions or any other opening pages—submit only your complete first chapter. There is no page limit or word count limit.

What is the judge looking for in my first chapter?

Our judge will be looking for the following elements in your submission: a clear point of view; a tone appropriate to the genre and story; an introduction to character(s); a sense of what the story will be about; a gripping opening scene; a vivid setting or settings; and a chapter ending that urges readers on to the second chapter.

The margins between paragraphs seem really big when I double-space. Is that okay?

If you're working in Word, there's a setting that automatically puts extra space between paragraphs, and you can change that in your Word settings to get rid of that extra space. Here's a 45-second video that shows you how to do that.

I have a quote at the start of the chapter. Can I include that and can I single-space it?

If the quote is part of chapter one, you're welcome to include it, and single-space it.

Should I include "Chapter One" or my chapter title at the top of the page?

Sure, go ahead and include them. (It's not mandatory, so feel free to omit either or both.)

And if you don't have a chapter title, that's totally fine.

Do I need to include page numbers?

Sure, go ahead and include them, wherever you like on the page. (It's not mandatory, though, so feel free to omit them.)

Can I submit a short story or the first chapter of a novella?

No. The Chapter One Prize is only for novels.

I'm writing a novel-in-stories—can I submit?

Yes, you're welcome to submit your first chapter if the stories all add up to a larger story. A novel-in stories has characteristics that link the individual stories together on purpose. This purposeful linking is what creates a novel-like arc—even though there are individual stories, they must be consumed as a whole from the start for the stories to make sense. If they're all stand-alone, unrelated stories that do not add up to the arc of a novel, then they're not eligible.

What kind of novels are accepted? What genre? For what age group?

Entries may be in any genre, written for adult readers—this does include young adult novels that adults would typically read, but does not include middle-grade fiction (the judge does not have enough experience in MG fiction to appropriately judge it). Fiction only.

I have more than one novel-in-progress; can I submit chapter one for each novel?

Yes. Each entry needs to be submitted and paid for ($20 per submission) as a separate entry.

I have several versions of chapter one of my novel-in-progress; can I submit each version?

Yes. Each entry needs to be submitted and paid for ($20 per submission) as a separate entry.

I'm writing a memoir or non-fiction story that reads like a novel. Can I submit?

No. This contest is for fiction writers working on novels. 

Does my manuscript have to be finished?

No. This contest is for novels-in-progress. The novel does not have to be finished. If it is finished, that's fine, as long as it hasn't been published.

I self-published my novel—can I submit the first chapter?

No. Published novels, however they have been published, are not eligible. The contest is for unpublished novels-in-progress.

My novel is under contract, but hasn't been published yet—can I submit?

Possibly! As long as the novel won’t be published and available for purchase on or before March 29, 2024 when the winners are announced, the novel is considered unpublished and can be submitted to the Chapter One Prize.

I'm submitting to other writing contests, too—do you allow simultaneous submissions? 

Yes, simultaneous submissions are fine. If, however, you win another competition, here’s the Chapter One Prize eligibility requirement that you'll need to review:

Entries (or drafts of entries) that have won 1st, 2nd or 3rd place in any other competition are not eligible, although those that are given finalist or honorable mention status in any other competition are eligible.

So, if you win 1st, 2nd or 3rd place in another contest before the March 29 winners announcement, please go into your Submittable account and withdraw your entry from the Chapter One Prize.  

I'm a published author—can I submit?

Yes, as long as the chapter you submit is the first chapter of an unpublished novel. 

Will I retain all rights to my work?

Yes. The rights to your work remain fully with you.

Should you win either a cash prize or a notable or honorable mention, the following text will be added to the first page of your chapter before it's posted on the website: "© [your name] 2024. All rights reserved. This work is provided for educational purposes only and should not considered 'published' work. If the chapter is accepted for publication, it will be removed from the website at the author's request.”

In past years, this has provided sufficient reassurance for those writers whose agents or publishers had concerns about rights.

I've worked with Joan Dempsey in the past. Can I still submit?

Yes, as long as you're not personal friends with or family members of the judge, Joan Dempsey. Writers with whom Joan has worked either in classes or one-on-one are eligible, because the entries are reviewed blind and because Joan works with hundreds of writers each year (there are more than 13,000 on her email list). For her to identify an individual manuscript from blind entries is unlikely, and even if she does recognize an entry, she is judging based solely on the merits of the work itself. Learn more about the judging process and the Code of Ethics.

Can I pay the entry fee through PayPal?

Yes. You can pay the $20 entry fee by either credit card or PayPal.

I understand this is a "blind" contest, so should I leave my name off the document and the document's name?

Yes. In order to ensure fairness, Submittable has been set up so that the judge does not know the identify of the writer until after the judging has taken place, so please remove any identifying information from the submission itself, and do not use your name in the document's name.

I can't access my existing Submittable Account—can you help?

If you're having trouble accessing your existing Submittable account, or having trouble setting up a Submittable account (it's free), please reach out directly to Submittable. Here's a link to their Support Page.

I submitted to the Page One Prize—am I eligible for the Chapter One Prize?

Yes, as long as you meet all the eligibility requirements for this contest.

Does the judge have time to read all the submissions?

Joan Dempsey, the judge, reads submissions as they come in throughout the month when submissions are open, not just between March 1 (when submissions close) and March 29 (when winners are announced), so it's a busy time, and also manageable; each submission is carefully reviewed. Read more about the judging process here.