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2017 First Impressions Contest

Congratulations to the 2017 First Impressions Winners.

FIRST IMPRESSIONS gives unpublished writers the opportunity to have the first five pages of their Christian fiction manuscript evaluated by an industry professional. Please read the contest guidelines below before clicking on the entry form link in the right hand sidebar.


1. Any author whose work has not been previously published in novella or book-length fiction (in ANY print or online form) is eligible to enter First Impressions.

2. Authors who are published in non-fiction, children's, and short story are eligible to enter the first five pages, plus the blurb,of an unpublished fiction manuscript that is novel or novella-length only.

3. There is no limit to the number of entries that may be submitted, however, a manuscript may not be entered into multiple categories.

4. Contest is open to ACFW members and non-members.

5. Any author contracted for publication before October 15, 2017 is not eligible to enter First Impressions.

6. Co-authored entries are allowed to enter. If one of the authors is a current ACFW member, then the entry can be submitted for the member entry fee. Both authors must be unpublished in fiction.

7. In any category, if fewer than seven (7) entries are received, the category shall be dissolved and the entrant’s alternate choice category on their submission will be used. The author is responsible for choosing the appropriate category for their entry.

8. Previous winning entries of the First Impressions are not eligible to be entered in this year's contest. Manuscripts which have previously placed in the final round or won the Genesis Contest are not eligible.

9. The manuscript should not contain profanity, graphic sex, gratuitous violence, or other objectionable material, and must conform with a traditional interpretation of Scripture. The ACFW Executive Board may order the disqualification of submissions not meeting this requirement.

10. Manuscripts do not have to be complete in order to enter First Impressions.

FEES: $15 per entry for current ACFW members, $25 per entry for non-members. Any break in membership during the course of the contest will result in withdrawal of the entry and forfeiture of the entry fee. If an entrant must withdraw from the contest for any reason, they must forfeit their entry fee.


1. Submit a back-cover copy type blurb of 200 words or less AND the first five pages of the manuscript, in the same file. Indicate into what genre you would like your submission entered.

2. Do NOT place your name or pseudonym anywhere on the manuscript/blurb.

3. Please do not post the name or other identifiers of your First Impressions-entered manuscript(s) to any of your online profiles (i.e. Facebook, Twitter, etc.) since judging is to be anonymous.

4. All entrants are required to check the “accept” box on the entry form indicating acceptance of terms.


Please use the Manuscript Formatting Example found here to see how your manuscript should look. Entries with borders or frames on the manuscript pages will not be allowed. Don't forget to include your 200-word, single spaced blurb that begins a double-space or two spaces down from the header. For all entries, the following guidelines must be used:

1. Use 12 point font, double-spaced, with one-inch margins. The contest allows the use of Courier New, Times New Roman, Garamond, Cambria, or Book Antiqua fonts.

2. Include a header on each manuscript with the title, category/genre, estimated manuscript word count, and page numbers. NO entrant's name or pseudonym should be in the header. See example here. If you do not know how to insert a header, search on-line for "insert a header in Word" for help.

3. Your entry will contain, in this order, a 200-word, single-spaced blurb which begins two spaces below the header, followed by the first 5 pages of your manuscript. Prologues are acceptable and should be included in the 5-page count. The entry will be 6 pages total, including 200-word blurb.

4. Start the first page of your manuscript 4 double spaces (8 single spaces) below the header.

5. Fill out entry form, upload entry file, and pay contest fee. The entry form is in the right hand sidebar.

Entries not fulfilling the above specifications will be disqualified. Entry fees will not be refunded.

If you have any questions, please e-mail the contest coordinator at


When e-mailing coordinators, please put "First Impressions" in the subject line.


The first round of the contest will be judged by three published authors or by experienced non-published authors. The final round will be judged by agents, editors and multi-published authors. In the event of a tie, the previous round scores of the tied entries will be used to break the tie.

Final Round Judges are:

  • Contemporary - Diana Flegal, Agent-Hartline Literary; Jennifer Slattery, Author and Acquisitions Editor-Guiding Light Women's Fiction; Catherine West, Author
  • Historical - Sarah Freese, Agent-WordServe Literary; Anne Mateer, Author; Dana Mentink, Author
  • Historical Romance - Dawn Anderson, Editor - Kregel Publications; Karen Witemeyer, Author; Tamera Alexander, Author
  • Mystery/Suspense/Thriller - Terrie Wolf, Agent - AKA Literary; Carrie Stuart Parks, Author; Jordyn Redwood, Author
  • Novella - Chip MacGregor, Agent-MacGregor Literary; Erica Vetsch, Author; Beth Vogt, Author
  • Romance - Jodi Hughes, Editor - HarperCollins Christian Publishing; Cynthia Ruchti, Author and Agent; Becky Melby, Author
  • Romantic Suspense - Tamela Hancock Murray, Agent-Steve Laube Agency; Cara Putman, Author; Martha Rogers, Author
  • Short Novel - Shana Asaro, Editor-Harlequin; Lisa Jordan, Author; Martha Rogers, Author
  • Speculative - Jim Hart, Agent-Hartline Literary; Miralee Ferrell, Publisher-Mountain Brook Ink; Linda Yezak, Author
  • Young Adult - Ali Herring - Agent-Spencerhill Associates; Allie Pleiter, Author; Pat Bradley, Author

Final round judges are subject to change. All judging is blind. Entrants’ names are only known by the coordinator.

Under no circumstances should comments given by a judge be used for publicity or promotional purposes.


For all the stories, one or more characters' Christian beliefs are blended with and form a part of the story. However, the presence of a Christian character or the use of Christian phrases and scripture are not the indicators of the spiritual content in the stories. For Speculative Fiction, the traditional Christian terms are often replaced by other words more suited to the fictional setting.

  • Contemporary: Novels or sagas set in any location, in contemporary setting. This category includes literary fiction, women's fiction, and mainstream fiction. The stories in this category can be dramatic or comedic.
  • Romance: The love story is set in any location in a contemporary setting, and is the main focus of the novel. The end of the book is emotionally satisfying. The stories in this category can be dramatic or comedic.
  • Historical (through Vietnam era): Novels or sagas set in any location, in which the time frame of the majority of the story is a historical context rather than a contemporary one. The time period can be up to and including the Vietnam era.
  • Historical Romance (through Vietnam era): Novels or sagas set in any location, but in which the time frame of the majority of the story is a historical context rather than a contemporary one. The time period can be up to and including the Vietnam era. The love story is the main focus of the novel, and the end of the story is emotionally satisfying. The stories in this category can be dramatic or comedic.
  • Mystery/Suspense/Thriller: Novels set in any location, in a contemporary setting, in which the suspense or mystery is the primary plot. In suspense, "often the reader learns very early in the story who did what, and how, and even why, so that the tension results from the manner in which an expected conclusion is achieved" (Jessica Mann). In thrillers, "tough, resourceful . . . heroes are pitted against villains determined to destroy them, their country, or the stability of the free world" (Steve Bennett). "The detective novel, or mystery, is generally driven by a single protagonist and follows the process of detection, functioning like a puzzle" (Ginny Wiehardt).
  • Romantic Suspense: A suspense plot is blended with a love story, which is the main focus of the novel, and the end of the book is emotionally satisfying. The story can be in any location, but the time frame should be a contemporary setting. Historical romantic suspense stories should be entered in the Historical Romance category.
  • Speculative: Novels in which the science fiction, the future, other planets, a fantasy world, or paranormal happenings are a major element of the plot or setting. This category includes speculative, visionary, science fiction, paranormal, futuristic, allegory, and alternate history fiction. Stories targeted primarily at young adult readers should be entered in the Young Adult category.
  • Novella: Contemporary or historical stories in any of the genre categories in this contest. Word count is 15K – 45K.
  • Short Novel: Historical or contemporary shorter novels 45K-70K in length.
  • Young Adult: Novels targeted toward young adult readers ages 12 through 18. The stories in this category can be dramatic, comedic, romantic, or non-romantic. Science Fiction/Fantasy/Allegory stories targeted primarily at young adult readers can be entered in this category. Stories targeted to Middle Readers are included in this category.


One first-place winner from each category will be chosen. They will receive complimentary renewal of ACFW membership for the following year, their name included among the promotional material at the ACFW Conference, and a press release to their local newspaper, if contact provided.


Contest opens: September 2, 2017 at 8:00 AM central time.

Contest closes: October 15, 2017 at 4:00 PM central time. All contest entries and contest fees must be received by that time.

All entries will receive a confirmation e-mail indicating receipt of the entry. If an entrant does not receive a confirmation e-mail by 7:00 PM central time October 16, 2017, the entrant should e-mail the contest coordinator at Please double-check your spam or junk mail folders first, if you haven't received your confirmation.

Finalists will be announced on or before November 16, 2017.

The final winners will be announced by December 15, 2017.