Exploring the art of prose


CRAFT First Chapters Contest 2023

CRAFT 2023 First Chapters Contest

$2,800 Awarded

This contest is now closed!
Thanks to all who shared their work!

We know you have a novel somewhere—currently under revision or hidden in that desk drawer—or at least the start of one. Wherever it is, dust it off and polish it up because we want to read your first chapters! This year, we’re thrilled to partner with Guest Judge Rebecca Makkai to find and celebrate the most promising novels in progress!

Here’s what Rebecca would love to see:

I love stories that don’t bore me. That sounds pretty simple, but it can be a tall order…. Of course it helps when the sentences are great and the details are interesting, but I’m interested in what moves the story forward. What are the novel’s engines? What reason are you giving the reader to turn the next page, and the next, and the next? I’m open to any style and content, as long as it has literary depth. If it hurt both your brain and your heart to write these words, you’re probably on the right track. 

Submissions are open June 1 to July 30, 2023. Rebecca will choose three winning excerpts from a shortlist of ten anonymized entries. Review the guidelines below and then send us your best work!


  • The First Chapters Contest is open to all fiction writers; CRAFT is a market for adult literary fiction.
  • International submissions are welcome. Work must be written primarily in English, but some code-switching is warmly welcomed.
  • Please send excerpts of book-length fiction only—please submit the first chapter or chapters* of your unpublished novels/novellas, completed or in progress.
  • Please do not submit short stories or nonfiction essays.
  • Please adhere to the 5,000 word count maximum*.
  • We review adult literary fiction, but are open to a variety of genres and styles.
  • Submit previously unpublished work only—we do NOT review reprints or partial reprints for contests (including any form of self-publishing such as on blogs, personal websites, social media, etc.). Reprints will be automatically disqualified.
  • We allow simultaneous submissions—writers, please notify us and withdraw your excerpt if your work is accepted elsewhere.
  • We allow multiple submissions—please submit each excerpt as a separate submission accompanied by an entry fee.
  • Please note the $20 entry fee per entry.
  • Kindly double-space your submission and use Times New Roman 12. (Feel free to contact us directly if you need to change these formatting requirements for better accessibility.)
  • Please include a brief cover letter with your publication history (if applicable), and a summary of your book-length project.
  • We do not require anonymous submissions, but the guest judge will read the shortlist anonymized.
  • Writers from historically marginalized groups will be able to submit for FREE during the first open week (or so) of the contest until we reach fifty free submissions. This free category will close when we reach capacity.
  • We do not discriminate on the basis of age, ancestry, disability, family status, gender identity or expression, national origin, race, religion, sex or sexual orientation, or for any other reason.
  • Additionally, we do not tolerate discrimination in the writing we consider for publication: work we find discriminatory on any of the bases stated here will be declined without complete review (you will be refunded, less Submittable’s fee).
  • Artful Editor is offering every entrant a 10% discount for query services—they will critique and edit your query letter, synopsis, and first fifty pages. Coupon code provided upon contest entry.
*Your entry may include more than your first chapter, up to 5,000 words total, but should contain complete sections—please do not leave us hanging midparagraph just to maximize word count—and must be the first chapter(s) of your book-length project, as if you were querying agents or publishing houses.


  • First place will receive a $2,000 award and a full manuscript critique of the novel or novella, up to 100K words, by Artful Editor.
  • Second and third place will receive $500 and $300, respectively.
  • First, second, and third place will receive an agent query workshop by Annalise Errico of Ladderbird Literary Agency—Annalise will offer feedback on the first 5,000 words of the project, the summary, and a query letter.
  • The top three excerpts will be published in CRAFT, each with an introduction by Guest Judge Rebecca Makkai.
  • Each publication will include an author’s note (craft essay) to accompany the excerpt by each of the writers.


  • Friends, family, and associates of the guest judge are not eligible for consideration for the award.
  • Our collaboration with editorial professionals and agents in the judging and awarding of our contests does not imply an endorsement or recognition from their agencies/houses/presses/universities/etc.
  • Check out our 2022 winners for examples of the type of work we seek.
  • As we only consider unpublished writing, and will publish the winning excerpts in December, anything under contract to publish prior to March 2024 should not be entered.


Photo Credit: Brett Simison

REBECCA MAKKAI is the award-winning author of one of 2023’s bestselling novels, I Have Some Questions for You. Her previous novel, The Great Believers, was a finalist for both the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award; it was the winner of the Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction, the Stonewall Book Award, the Clark Prize, and the LA Times Book Prize; and it was one of The New York Times’s Ten Best Books of 2018. Her other books are the novels The Borrower and The Hundred-Year House, and the collection Music for Wartime—four stories from which appeared in The Best American Short Stories. A 2022 Guggenheim Fellow, Rebecca is on the MFA faculties of the University of Nevada, Reno at Lake Tahoe and Northwestern University, and is artistic director of StoryStudio Chicago. Find her on Twitter @rebeccamakkai.


Founded in 2010, ARTFUL EDITOR is an editorial agency that helps writers elevate their prose and prepare their manuscripts for agent submission and publication. We offer honest manuscript reviews, developmental editing, copyediting, and one-on-one coaching. Our team is composed of seasoned book editors, published authors, and former in-house editors, many of whom also edit for major publishing houses and independent presses. We’re based in Los Angeles, California, but work with writers from all over the world and at every stage of their careers. You can find us on TwitterInstagram, and Facebook.

ANNALISE ERRICO of Ladderbird Literary Agency is a graduate of Lesley University where she earned a BA in Creative Writing with a double minor in Literature and Women’s, Gender, & Sexuality Studies. She is excited about uplifting stories by authors with marginalized voices and intersectional identities, ultimately making room for the diverse voices that have long since been ignored and suppressed in the literary world and beyond. Find her on Twitter @AnnaliseErrico.

LADDERBIRD is a full-service boutique literary agency out of the Boston area with a passion for bringing marginalized voices to the forefront. We work with authors at all levels to create the right path towards achieving each author’s specific goals. It is our passion to create long-lasting relationships and to be the best advocate for our clients. At Ladderbird, we believe in building a supportive community that benefits all. Find us on Twitter @ladderbirdlit.


You may choose to receive editorial feedback on your excerpt. We will provide marginal notes notes, as well as a two-page global letter discussing the strengths of the writing and the recommended focus for revision. While editorial feedback is inherently subjective, our suggestions are always actionable and encouraging. We aim to have feedback completed within twelve weeks. Work that we critique is not eligible for future CRAFT contests. Learn more about our program here.