Rules & Guidelines
What you need to know
- The 2021 contest is now closed to submissions and judging is in progress.
- Carefully review the complete list of contest rules and formatting instructions found below.
- Fill out out our online entry form and submit your payment online via credit card or PayPal.
- The entry form will prompt you to upload your file. Please upload only one file. It should include both your synopsis and the opening of your manuscript. (Acceptable formats: .doc, .docx, and .pdf)
- Once you upload your documents and submit your payment, you will receive an automated confirmation email. There is nothing further you need to do at this time.
• General Fiction (including Literary Fiction)
• Historical Fiction
• General Nonfiction (excluding Memoir)
• Middle Grade (chapter books and novels only; no picture books)
• Young Adult
Winners in each category will receive a complimentary registration to our 2021 Agents & Editors Conference and a one-on-one consultation at the event with the literary agent who judged the category (this prize is valued at more than $400). Winners who cannot attend in person can opt for a phone call with the literary agent.
$55 WLT members / $65 nonmembers (INCLUDES A WRITTEN CRITIQUE)
$25 WLT members / $35 nonmembers (DOES NOT INCLUDE A WRITTEN CRITIQUE)
For more on the optional written critique, see the box below.
Note that your membership must be current in order to receive the member discount. If you’re not sure whether your membership is current, you are welcome to reach out to Member Services at email@example.com.
Our standard contest entry fee of $55 (for WLT members) and $65 (for nonmembers) includes a 1-2 page written critique of your submission. Critiques will be written by experienced independent editors.
Of course, we recognize that not everybody is interested in receiving written feedback on their work, which is why there is a second option available. You may elect to pay a lower entry fee ($25 for WLT members and $35 for nonmembers) for a “straight entry.” Straight entries are judged with all of the other entries and have an equal chance of winning the contest, but they do not include a written critique.
You may enter this contest in as many categories as you like, with up to four entries per category. Each entry requires separate payment. For each entry, please supply a separate entry form and payment.
AN EXCEPTION TO THIS: If you are writing memoir, you must choose EITHER “General Nonfiction” OR “Memoir.” You cannot submit in both categories.
2021 Manuscript Contest Rules
- Online entries must be submitted by April 30, 2021 at midnight CDT.
- The combined word count of your synopsis and manuscript must not exceed 2,750 words.
- Manuscripts must be original, unpublished, and not accepted for publication. Novels that are based on previously published short stories are not eligible.
- If judges deem that none of the entries in a given category meet contest standards, no entrants will be recognized.
- Writers may submit multiple entries in multiple categories; separate entry forms and payment should accompany each submission. AN EXCEPTION TO THIS: If you are writing memoir, you must choose EITHER “General Nonfiction” OR “Memoir.” You cannot submit in both categories.
Formatting Instructions for All Entries
- Entries must be typed and double-spaced. Use 12 pt. Times New Roman font with a 1-inch margin.
- The combined word count of your synopsis and manuscript must not exceed 2,750 words. (Yes, this includes titles, subtitles, and footnotes.)
- Please do NOT include a header or footer.
- Your synopsis should appear on the first page, before the opening pages of the manuscript. Judges will read the synopsis first. (We recommend allocating approximately 250-300 words to the synopsis, although if you prefer to submit a long synopsis and a shorter entry, that’s fine. As long as the total combined word count of the synopsis and manuscript does not exceed 2,750 words, you’re fine.)
- Your synopsis should include the title of your manuscript. Please put the title in all caps (LIKE THIS).
- If you would like, you may include an optional note to the editor who will be critiquing your entry (100 words maximum, these 100 words do NOT count towards your 2,750 words for the synopsis and manuscript). You can use this opportunity to provide them with additional information or ask them a specific question. If you choose to include such a note, it should come at the very end of the document, in bold type, with the words “Note to the editor” above it. (The words “Note to the editor” do not count toward the 100 word limit.) These optional notes will NOT be taken into consideration by the contest judges and will not influence your score in any way. They are purely meant as an opportunity for you to ask a burning question to the editor who will critique your entry or give them some (brief) additional information about the piece. If you don’t have any burning questions or pertinent background information to share, there is no need for a note to the editor.
- Author’s name must not appear anywhere in the document. The one exception to this is in the Memoir category. If you are submitting a memoir, your entry may contain your first name, but please omit or change your last name to preserve anonymity.
- File name should take the following format: CATEGORY_TITLE (Example: Memoir_AngelasAshes.doc). Note: Please do not use spaces or special characters (such as dashes, slashes, colons, apostrophes, or ampersands) in your file name, as in the example: AngelasAshes, not Angela’sAshes.
Failure to abide by the contest rules and formatting guidelines will result in disqualification and forfeiture of entry fee.
If you have questions on any contest rules or formatting instructions (or anything else contest related), read through our Manuscript Contest FAQs below. If your question isn’t answered there, please do reach out to our Contest Coordinator Sara Kocek at firstname.lastname@example.org. We’re always happy to hear from you.
Can I send my entry via the USPS (aka, snail mail)?
Unfortunately not. ALL ENTRIES MUST BE SUBMITTED ONLINE. (If you need help navigating the online form, please do reach out. We’re happy to walk you through it.)
Can I pay by check?
We prefer that you pay by credit card at the time that you submit your online entry form. However, if you encounter a problem while attempting to pay by credit card (or if you don’t have a credit card) you may send a check made out to The Writers’ League of Texas. In the notes field on the check (or on a separate piece of paper enclosed in the envelope), please include the words “Manuscript Contest Entry Fee” as well as the category you are entering, the date that you completed your online entry form, and the name on the entry form (if different than the name on the check). Please mail to: Writers’ League of Texas, 611 S. Congress Ave, Suite 200A-3, Austin, TX 78704.
Is there a word limit or a page limit on my submission?
There is no page limit; there is only a word limit. The combined word count of your synopsis and manuscript must not exceed 2,750 words. (This includes titles, subtitles, and footnotes.) You may also include an optional note (up to 100 extra words) to the editor critiquing your entry.
What if the word count means my submission gets cut off mid-chapter?
It is perfectly fine to submit a partial chapter for the contest. Our judges are told to expect that the entry may cut off mid-chapter to fit within the word limit, and that is fine. Don’t cut it off mid-paragraph, but round to the closest paragraph and you will be fine.
Should I include page numbers?
Page numbers are optional. (This is a paper-free contest, meaning judges read the work on their computers, so page numbers are not as important as they used to be in the days of printed submissions.) If you would like to include page numbers, you MAY include a footer as long as it only has the page number in it, and no words (no name, no title of the manuscript, etc.). This will not affect the judging or scoring process in any way.
Does my submission need to be the first chapter of the book, or can I submit a chapter from elsewhere in the novel?
The submission should be all or part of the first chapter (as opposed to an excerpt from later in the novel).
Do I have to include a note to the editor critiquing my work?
No, this is completely optional. Notes to the editor will NOT be taken into consideration by the contest judges and will not influence your score in any way. They are purely meant as an opportunity for you to ask a burning question to the editor who will critique your entry or give him/ her some (brief) additional information about the piece. If you don’t have any questions or pertinent background information to provide, there is no need to include a note to the editor.
If I choose to include a note to the editor critiquing my work, what sort of thing should I say in that note?
This is completely optional, but if you’d like to include a note to the editor critiquing your work, you might consider telling them what concerns you have (e.g., “I’m worried there’s too much world building in the first few pages, do you agree?”) or ask a specific question like “I’m curious whether the first few pages grab the reader’s attention enough, can you give me your thoughts?” The editor critiquing your work will keep these specifics in mind when compiling feedback.
If I include a note to the editor critiquing my work, will it hurt or help my chances of winning the contest?
No. This optional note will not be taken into consideration by the contest judges and will not influence your score in any way.
Where should I put my note to the editor critiquing my work?
It should go at the very end of your document, in bold type, after the manuscript text. Preface the note with the words “Note to the editor.” (The words “Note to the editor” do not count toward the 100 word limit of the note.)
What goes first: the synopsis, the manuscript text, or the note to the editor?
You may submit only one document. The synopsis should be on the first page of that document, followed by the manuscript text on the following pages. The note to the editor — should you choose to include one — should be the last page of the document.
Should my synopsis be written like a book jacket blurb (brief, enticing, and meant to hook the reader)? Or should it be a straightforward outline of the book?
Your synopsis should be somewhere in between a book jacket blurb and an outline of the book. It should be written in an enticing way, like a book jacket blurb, but unlike a book jacket blurb, it should reveal the ending of the book. It doesn’t need to cover everything that happens in the book–just a basic sense of the plot, including how the plot resolves.
How do I determine which category or genre is best for me?
If you think your manuscript straddles the line between multiple categories or genres (for example, if you’ve written a YA mystery novel), we encourage you to enter in multiple categories. Entrants in previous years have told us how helpful it was to receive multiple critiques from different judges about the same manuscript. To enter in multiple categories, simply submit a separate entry form and payment for each entry, and you will receive one critique for each (if you enter at the price level that includes a critique, of course). And yes, it IS possible for your manuscript to win in more than one category. If you are the winner of multiple categories, you will win multiple literary agent consultations.
AN EXCEPTION TO THIS: If you are writing memoir, you must choose EITHER “General Nonfiction” OR “Memoir.” You cannot submit to both categories.
If you want to choose only one category and are debating between general fiction and a specific genre, we recommend entering in the specific genre. “General Fiction” is our most popular category, and it routinely gets the most entries. So your odds of winning are slightly better in one of the genre categories, since they have slightly fewer entries on average.
Finally, you are also welcome to enter in one category at the price level that includes a critique and in a different category (with the same or a different manuscript) at the price level that does NOT include a critique.
I’ve written a women’s fiction manuscript. Where does that belong?
You may enter women’s fiction into the General Fiction category. If romance plays a significant role in the plot of your novel, you might also consider entering it into the Romance category.
I’ve written a magical realism or a supernatural horror novel. Where does my entry belong?
Supernatural horror novels and magical realism novels should be entered into the Science Fiction/Fantasy category. (Since many magial realism novels read much like realistic fiction in the opening pages, please be sure to mention magical realism in your synopsis so that the judge will understand why your entry belongs in the Science Fiction/Fantasy category.)
I’ve written a book for children. Does it belong in the Middle Grade or Young Adult category?
First, please note that this contest does NOT accept picture book manuscripts. If your manuscript is intended for children who are roughly ages 7 – 12, you should enter in the Middle Grade category. If your manuscript is intended for children/teenagers who are roughly ages 11 – 17, you should enter in the YA category. You’ll note that there is some overlap in these suggested age ranges. (And please note that we are referring to ages here, not school grade levels.)
If your book straddles the line between Middle Grade and YA, we encourage you to submit it to both or just choose the category that you feel is a closer match. If you’re confused about the differences between these two categories (Middle Grade and YA), we encourage you to do some research online and elsewhere to familiarize yourself before you submit.
My manuscript contains pictures/photos/graphics. Can I include them?
No. This contest is for manuscripts that are text driven. We do not accept submissions that contain pictures/photos/ graphics. Including picture book manuscripts.
It says my name shouldn’t appear anywhere in my document, but I’ve written a memoir so my name appears in the text. What should I do?
Using your real first name in your entry is completely fine. However, if you’ve used your FULL name (first and last) in the entry, please remove your last name or change it to something else. This will preserve anonymity on the off chance one of our judges happens to know you or your family.
The instructions for the file name say it should contain no characters, but what about the categories that have special characters in the name?
Please omit dashes and just uses EITHER spaces or an underscore key. For example, “science fiction fantasy” and “Science_fiction_fantasy” are both acceptable.
Does this contest accept poetry manuscripts?
No, it does not.
What if my manuscript contains some poetry?
If your manuscript is a mix of prose and poetry (for example, a memoir that incorporates some original poems) you are welcome to submit it. That said, this contest is primarily geared to prose writing, so manuscripts in which poetry is a major component are less likely to win. Knowing this, if you would still like to enter, we are happy to consider your manuscript and provide a written critique.
How does judging work?
Each category has at least two judges; some of the larger categories have as many as four. All entries are read by more than one judge. Each entry is assigned one “critique judge” who also provides written feedback on the content. This means that while your written feedback is the reflection of only one judge’s thoughts and opinions, your ultimate ranking in the contest is determined by multiple judges.
I disagree with the feedback I was given and/or the judge clearly didn’t “get it.” What can I do?
While each entry is read by multiple judges, your written critique is completed by only one of those judges. As such, it is a reflection of one person’s subjective thoughts and opinions, and you may disagree with it. It’s our belief that, regardless of whether you completely agree with the judge’s feedback, there’s something valuable to be gained from sharing your work and listening to a professional’s take on the material, good and bad. That said, we also encourage all writers to explore the many other avenues available, beyond contests like this one, to receive feedback, including participating in workshops, pairing up with a critique partner, or joining a critique group. For more on this, click here.
I want to enter this contest, but my manuscript is my baby and I’m really sensitive about receiving criticism. What should I do?
First, rest assured that our judges are not out to tear your work to shreds. We ask them to be honest and forthright in their critiques but never mean or disparaging. That said, if you just don’t want any written feedback, we understand. You may opt out of the critique and pay a reduced rate to enter the contest. This is called a “straight contest entry” rather than an “entry with critique.” If you pay the reduced rate and submit a straight contest entry, your work will be judged and considered for the prize, but you will not receive a written critique.
If I win the contest, I get free admission to the WLT 2021 Agents & Editors Conference, right?
Yes, the winners in all ten categories will receive a complimentary registration to the 2021 Agents & Editors Conference in Austin, Texas (dates to be announced soon) as well as a complimentary one-on-one consultation with the literary agent who judged their category. This prize is valued at more than $400.This does not include transportation, hotel accommodations, or any other expenses associated with attending the conference.
Winners who attend the conference will be given a special ribbon on their conference badge indicating that they are a Manuscript Contest winner. Keep in mind, if you’re a winner in your category and you’re unavailable the weekend of the conference or you decide not to take advantage of the complimentary registration, you can opt to do your one-on-one consultation with the literary agent over the phone; there’s no obligation to take this meeting in person at the conference. That’s up to you!
And before you ask, no, the conference registration is not transferrable and cannot be deferred or applied to another event.
If you are notified that you’re a winner and you’ve already purchased a registration for the 2021 Agents & Editors Conference you’ll receive a refund on the paid registration. If you’d like to attend the conference and are also entering the manuscript contest, we suggest you purchase your registration and take advantage of this refund, should you be one of our lucky winners. Keep in mind: If you decide after the winners and finalists are announced that you’d like to purchase a registration for the conference, you will need to pay the current conference registration rate at the date of purchase. (Questions on any of this? Call us!)
What about Finalists? Do they get free admission to the conference?
No. However, finalists who choose to purchase a conference registration will also be given a special ribbon on their badge/nametag indicating that they are a Manuscript Contest finalist. It’s a great conversation starter when approaching agents and editors!
If I enter at the lower entry rate ($25 for WLT members / $35 for nonmembers) will I receive a critique?
No, you will not.
If I change my mind after entering and decide that I’d like a critique, can I pay the difference and receive one?
No, you may not. You would have to forfeit your original entry and complete a brand new entry form with a new payment at the “entry with critique” rate. You would not be refunded for your initial entry. So please make a final decision before you fill out the entry form!
If I’m not paying the higher rate for a critique, do I still include a note to the editor?
No, please do not. Notes to the editor will only be read by the editor critiquing your entry, so there’s no need to include one for a straight contest entry. If you do, it will be disregarded (not even read) by the contest judges.