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Announcing The Writing Show's 2007 First-Chapter-of-a-Novel Contest

Sponsored by Literary Market Place,

the ultimate insider’s guide to the U.S. book publishing industry, covering every conceivable aspect of the business


Our 2007 First Chapter Contest is now open!


First Prize:

  • $500
  • The two-volume print version of Literary Market Place (LMP) (a $299.95 value)
  • An interview on The Writing Show
  • Chapter posted on The Writing Show Web site.

And the eternal glory of victory!

Two Second Prizes:

  • $100
  • Chapter posted on The Writing Show Web site.

All Entrants Receive:

Early deadline May 15, 2007
Late deadline June 15, 2007

Winners will be announced on November 15, 2007.

Entry fee:

$35 if received online (or postmarked, if by snail mail) by our early deadline of May 15, 2007
$45 if received online (or postmarked, if by snail mail) between May 16 and June 15, 2007

POPULAR CRIME FICTION AUTHOR C.J. BOX, who writes the Joe Pickett novels, will be part of our celebrity panel selecting the winners from the judges’ short-list.

C.J. Box

What We’re Looking For

We want to find the world’s best first chapter of an unpublished novel. Above all, you must tell a compelling story. That means that you have to grab us so quickly, so completely, that we can’t stop reading, come earthquake, fire, flood, or pizza.

Your writing will be judged on the following five criteria:

  1. Story. Is it a compelling read with a great hook? Are we engaged?
  2. Style. Is the writing smooth and tight, without awkward constructions, extraneous verbiage, and redundancies?
  3. Dialog. Is the dialog natural and does it move the story along?
  4. Character. Are the characters interesting? Do we care about them?
  5. Mechanics. Are grammar, spelling, and punctuation correct?

We’re not necessarily looking for great literature or fancy writing. We just want an absorbing story. The point is to write tightly and economically. You don’t have to write in a spare style like Hemingway, but you must make every word count. And please, watch those extra commas, capricious capitalization, overuse of individual words, and “it’s” where you mean “its” and “their” where you mean “there!”

By the way, we understand that some rules of English punctuation vary among countries. We’ll make allowances for that.


  • All works must be unpublished. Posting your work on your Web site or in a writing community does not equate to its being published. “Published” in our context means that the work is for sale.
  • No more than 4000 words. Chapters that exceed the limit will be disqualified, so please count carefully. (And yes, the 4000 words includes the title, prologue, and quotes, if present.) Entry fees for such chapters will not be refunded, so please check and double-check your word count. Shorter is better anyway. And look what you can do in a first chapter of 4000 words or less:


    • Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities: 1007 words
    • Herman Melville, Moby Dick: 2218 words
    • Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking Glass: 3254 words
    • William Dean Howells, A Hazard of New Fortunes: 3102 words
    • Mark Twain, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn: 1438 words

    And these guys were writing when people were much more verbose than we are today!

  • All chapters must be in English, although if you precede your chapter with a quote, that may be in another language.
  • No changes to your entry will be accepted after receipt. Please check your work before you submit because we can’t keep track of various versions of your work. (Have mercy on me. I’m still producing shows while I’m administering the contest.)
  • The chapters themselves must not contain any information that can identify you. All your identifying information will come in via the application, or, if you have questions, by email. The judges will work blind, rating submissions on their quality and merits alone. Last year I had to strip names out of a few chapters. Please be nice to me and don’t make me do that again.
  • You may submit a prologue along with your first chapter, but if you do, you must stay within the 4000-word limit for the two sections combined.
  • Any genre is acceptable as long as it is in the novel form. No screenplays, short stories, poems, or plays, please.
  • Any rating is okay. Last year we did not accept X-rated entries. This year we have removed that restriction. You may submit explicit material, but please consider story above all else.
  • You must submit a logline (teaser) of one or two sentences with your chapter. For tips on writing excellent loglines, see
  • You may submit as many entries as you like, but each one must be accompanied by an entry fee.
  • You may submit entries written by more than one author. Only one fee per chapter is necessary, regardless of the number of authors.
  • All chapters must be received electronically. Please do not snail mail your text.
  • Any entries that arrive after June 15th, 2007 will not be considered. Entry fees for such submissions will not be refunded, so please plan ahead! We are in California in the U.S. Pacific time zone, which means that you guys in Asia have almost an extra day’s advantage.
  • Payments postmarked up to and including May 15, 2007 qualify for the early deadline rate of $35.
  • You may pay your fee by May 15th and submit your entry later and still qualify for the $35 rate.
  • If your payment bounces, you will be disqualifed. Duh.
  • Each entry must be accompanied by your application, and we must have your name, snail mail address, phone number, and email. We will not spam you, but we must have a way of contacting you if we have questions or if you win.
  • Winners of other Writing Show contests are eligible to enter.
  • The judges’ decisions are final.


Last year we had so many requests for feedback that we’ve decided to add a new feature (which we shamelessly copied from the BlueCat Screenplay Competition). We’re proud to offer all contestants 750 words of feedback comprising two sections: “What I Like About Your Chapter” and “Suggestions for Improvement.” Few other writing contests, even those with entry fees, provide this service. Now you’ll know exactly what you need to do to win!

Entrants will receive their feedback via email after the winners have been announced on November 15, 2007.

How to Enter


  1. Send us your information and chapter electronically
  2. Make your payment online or via snail mail


We thought we were going to have an online entry form, but it won’t be ready this year. So, please send your chapter as an email attachment to along with the following information and text:

Email address
Snail mail address
Phone number
Title of your novel
Word count for your entry
Logline (teaser)

Text: “I am the author of this work and hold all rights to it. (If multiple authors, “We are the authors of this work and hold all rights to it.”) I agree to abide by all rules and guidelines of The Writing Show First-chapter-of-a-novel contest. If I win, I grant The Writing Show permission to display the work on its Web site or sites.”

Chapters must be in .DOC, .RTF, or .PDF formats and submitted as email attachments.

Send payment via Paypal, credit card via Paypal, check, or money order. If you are outside the U.S. and Canada, please do not send a check. Payment must be postmarked June 15, 2007 or earlier to qualify.

Click on the button to pay with Paypal or credit card via Paypal (you will be paying “The Compulsive Creative”):

Make your check or money order payable to Paula Hollywood, Inc. and send it to:

Paula Berinstein
Paula Hollywood, Inc.
P.O. Box 2970
Agoura Hills, CA 91376-2970

Please, please, please do not make checks out to The Writing Show! Our corporation is called Paula Hollywood, Inc.

The Writing Show will acknowledge receipt of all entries and payments by return receipt email. If you don’t hear from us, please inquire.

If you change your email address after submitting your entry, please let us know. We wouldn’t want you to miss out on your feedback!

Privacy Policy

We ask for your snail mail address and phone number as backup to your email address in case of questions and/or to notify you if you win. We will forward your email address to Information Today so they can activate your free one-week’s access to the online version of Literary Market Place unless you tell us not to. We will not use your information for any other purpose, and of course, we never give out your personal information to anyone without your consent.


Entrants will be able to use their one-week’s free access to the online version of Literary Market Place any time during a 90-day window from approximately June 20th to September 20th, 2007. We will forward your name and email address to Literary Market Place, and they will set up an account for you. Be sure to tell us if you want to opt out of this benefit!


Our judges are drawn from a talented pool of authors, editors, publishers, critics, and other individuals with real-world publishing experience. Many of our judges from last year will be joining us again.

This year’s judges so far:

Celebrity judge crime fiction author C.J. Box will help select the winners from the short list.

Reading the entries and offering feedback will be:


  • Book publicist Karen Villanueva
  • Freelance editor and book designer Jill Ronsley
  • Guest host and book reviewer Mick Halpin, also known as Critical Mick
  • John Bryans, Editor-in-Chief and Publisher at Information Today Books and Plexus Publishing
  • Author Paula Paul
  • Freelance editor Ann Paden
  • Author Micah Dubinko.


About the Contest

The Writing Show is here to help you succeed. Our contests give you practice in preparing your work for submission to agents and publishers. We’re planning to provide better and better prizes and other benefits as we become established.

Last Year’s Contest

Check out these great podcasts from last year’s contest:


Interviewee: Paula B.
Host: Paula B.
Date: May 5, 2006
Running time: 14:55 minutes
File size: 15 megabytes
Rating: G


Host: Paula B
Date: September 4, 2006
Running time: 08:27
File size: 8 megabytes
Rating: G

A PROFESSIONAL READING OF OUR FIRST PRIZE WINNER, KATZ CRADLE, BY GREGORY HUFFSTUTTER. “In order to solve his partner’s murder, a homophobic rookie cop is forced to team up with a gay-rights activist.” Visit Gregory’s Web site at

Gregory’s chapter is performed by Gordon Mackenzie. Gord is a professional actor living in Windsor, Ontario and the co-founder of Actors Theatre of Windsor. He is also a regular contributor to Librivox, and you can find a listing of his free recordings at

Running time: 20:53
File size: 20 megabytes

A PROFESSIONAL READING OF ONE OF OUR SECOND PRIZE WINNERS, NAME DROP ZONE, BY SCOTT MIDDLEMIST. “A soldier returns to civilian life as an air traffic controller but snaps and causes a horrible crash. He is institutionalized and copes with debilitating nightmares and migraines by using an experimental drug. The drug opens a realm reserved for the dead where he tries to recover the pieces of his shattered soul.”

Scott’s chapter is performed by Shane Young. Shane Young ( is a producer, engineer, and disc jockey at WFHB Community Radio in Bloomington, Indiana.

Running time: 18:25
File size: 18 megabytes

A PROFESSIONAL READING OF OUR OTHER SECOND PRIZE WINNER, IS THERE LIFE OUT THERE? BY STACIE PENNEY. “A young widow returns to her Midwestern hometown to pick-up the fragments of her life.” The first chapter of Is There Life Out There? is called “Journey and Arrival.”

Stacie’s chapter is performed by Kymm Zuckert. Kymm describes herself as the most unsuccessful child actress of the 1970’s. She has been performing since the age of three , and has been working with Love Creek Productions since 1988, acting in and directing something over 100 plays with them over the past 18 years.

Running time: 15:50
File size: 16 megabytes

Kymm Zuckert


Interviewee: Paula Berinstein
Host: Paula B
Date: September 12, 2006
Running time: 07:14 minutes
File size: 7 megabytes
Rating: G

You can also read the winning chapters in PDF:

First prize: Katz Cradle by Gregory Huffstutter.

Second prize: Name Drop Zone by Scott Middlemist.

Second prize: Is There Life Out There? by Stacie Penney.

We also awarded four Honorable Mentions:

Kent Blackwood from Alabama, USA for Everybody’s Fool. “This is the story of a young Marine who, after his parent’s deaths at the hands of a relative, struggles to decide whether to seek revenge or use the event to break completely free of his family.”

Read Chapter 1 of Everybody’s Fool here

John Ling from New Zealand for Righteous Fire. “When the favoured son of the Chang family dies, it is up to his outcast sister to unravel the truth.”

Read Chapter 1 of Righteous Fire here

Mark Leslie from Ontario, Canada for Morning Son. “A grieving man uncovers deeply buried family secrets on his quest to lay his father’s ashes and memory to rest!”

Read Chapter 1 of Morning Son here

Charleen Touchette and S. Barry Paisner from New Mexico, USA for Real and Fake Indians. “American Indian athletes Shonto Benally, Shane Yazzie, and Nadema MacCleod race against Maude Meanobee’s ring of artifact marketers to retrieve inscribed stones in an adventure that brings Indian Country to Washington, D.C.” The first chapter of Real and Fake Indians is called “Northern Arizona.”

Read Chapter 1 of Real and Fake Indians here

–Paula B.