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2013 First Impressions FAQ

1: Does my manuscript have to be complete in order to be entered into First Impressions?

No. You do not have to have a complete manuscript to enter First Impressions nor does the manuscript you’re entering need to be complete. First Impressions was created so authors can get feedback on unfinished manuscripts.

2: If I plan to enter Genesis, may I enter First Impressions too?

Absolutely! First Impressions is scheduled to ensure we are able to return score sheets to entrants in time for them to apply needed changes/tweaks to manuscripts they intend to enter into Genesis.

3: If I have been published in short stories, am I eligible to enter First Impressions?

Yes. However, if you’ve been published in novella-length (20,000 words or more) fiction, you are ineligible to enter First Impressions.

4: I have published portions or excerpts of my manuscript on my blog or website. Would this make my entry ineligible for First Impressions?

Yes. Unless you delete or hide the excerpt or portion of the manuscript you intend to enter, because this is typically considered “previously published.” If you have a manuscript you intend to enter, and you’ve posted portions online, it is imperative that you delete or hide that post from public view between now and the contest launch date and don’t put it back up until after the contest concludes, meaning after the winners are announced at the end of December. On Blogger, you may simply revert the post back to “Draft”. If you don’t want to delete the portions of the manuscript, another manuscript may be entered, as long as portions of it have not been posted anywhere online.

Also, before, during and through the conclusion of the contest, PLEASE be mindful of not mentioning the title of your manuscript online in conjunction with a blog post, Facebook status or Tweet that mentions you entered it into First Impressions. It’s fine to share that you’ve entered, but our goal is to keep the entries/entrants anonymous. Judges are to remain anonymous as well.

5: I would like to enter a novella manuscript that is 20,000-22,000 words in length. Is this acceptable?

Yes. First Impressions submissions may be from novel or novella length manuscripts, as long as the author is unpublished.

6: May we enter the same manuscript in two categories?

No. Each manuscript may be entered into only one category.

7: How about different manuscripts in the same category?

Yes. There is no limit to the number of manuscripts you may enter into First Impressions, regardless of category. But each manuscript may only be entered into one category, and will be charged separate entry fees based on member or non-member pricing.

8: How do I know which category to enter my manuscript in, if my manuscript crosses more than one genre (for example, romantic suspense, or a historical with speculative elements, etc., etc.)?

The decision of category rests solely on the author of the work entered. Entrants whose manuscripts fall in this situation of being a multi-genre book will likely benefit more by entering their manuscript in the category which is most clearly reflected and represented in those first five pages. Reason being, the judges are going to be placed over categories in which 1. They most prefer to read and 2. They are most experienced in judging. Whichever genre comes through the strongest in your opening pages is the category you’ll probably want to enter it in.

That said, judges will be instructed not to mark down for entries that don’t appear to fit the genre entered, since the story’s true genre may not fully present itself until after the first five pages. No entry will be disqualified if we feel an entrant placed it in the “wrong” category, UNLESS a manuscript is entered that clearly goes against a Christian world view. For example, since our contest is open to non-ACFW members, if an erotica manuscript is entered, it would obviously be disqualified.

9: I self-published a fiction book. Am I eligible to enter?

Self-published authors are eligible, however you may not enter a manuscript that is in print or that was/is available for purchase at any time between September 1, 2006 and September 1, 2013.

10: I have a prologue. Should I enter that, or the first five pages of the first chapter?

The first five pages literally means the first five pages. Since the prologue opens the book, it is recommended that you begin your entry with that. However, you may enter the first five pages of your first chapter if you’re undecided about keeping your prologue and want feedback on the first chapter. The goal of First Impressions is to give you feedback as to whether your book’s opening has what it takes to wow industry professionals and keep them reading. If your prologue is boring, readers (and likely editors and agents) won’t likely make it to your chapters.

11: Should I enter more than five pages if my first chapter is longer?

No. One reason for contests for unpublished authors is to equip and prepare them for how to properly submit to traditional publishing houses. Part of this means submitting according to guidelines. If you submit more than five pages, your entry will be returned or any pages beyond five will be deleted from your manuscript by the coordinator prior to sending the submission to judges.

12: Should I end my five pages at the end of the literal five pages of my manuscript, or try to tweak it to end on a hook?

That decision is up to you. Judges will be instructed not to detract points for entries that don’t end on a hook or that do not end in a logical place. That said, it is better to end your submission at the end of a strong “hooky” sentence, rather than leaving the judge hanging in the middle of a sentence. 

13: My novel has been contracted by a publisher. However, the process is lengthy, and I wonder if this makes me ineligible to enter the first five pages in First Impressions?

That depends. If you come under contract before the ENTRY period is over, you must withdraw. If you contract after the contest is being judged, then you may stay in. Part of the purpose of First Impressions is to help authors get their unpublished manuscripts to the point of being publishable. If a traditional publisher has contracted your work, entering First Impressions is in essence rowing backwards. Contracted and published novelists may not enter First Impressions, because a contracted book is soon-to-be-published, and therefore so is the author, which makes them ineligible.

However, if your book contract falls through for any reason, or you contract after the entry deadline, you are welcome to enter First Impressions, as long as you make the entry deadline and meet all other guidelines.

On the bright side, once your book is in print, you’re eligible to enter the Carol awards, as long as your publisher is on our Recognized Publishers list. See info on our Carol Awards page.

14: I have had a novella published. Am I ineligible to enter First Impressions?

Yes. If you’ve published ANYTHING over 20,000 words in ANY arena, print, digital or online after September 1, 2006, you’re considered published and therefore ineligible for First Impressions.

15: I have a manuscript under consideration with an agency or publishing house. Am I eligible to enter First Impressions?

Yes, unless or until that manuscript becomes contracted, you (and the manuscript or others by you) are eligible for entry into First Impressions.

16: I am a First Impressions judge. May I enter?

Yes, as long as you enter a category in which you are not judging.

17: On the entry form, must I list even family members and non-writing friends who’ve read my manuscript?

No. However, please list anyone within the writing community who is likely to be a judge of this contest who has already seen this work/entry.

18: I’ve had a story published in Chicken Soup for the Soul or other non-fiction publication. Am I eligible to enter First Impressions with a fiction manuscript?

Yes, as long as the projected length of the fiction manuscript reaches beyond 20,000 words (novella length).

19: I’ve been published in the ABA (secular) industry in fiction. May I enter a Christian manuscript into First Impressions?

No. If you’ve published ANYTHING over 20,000 words in ANY arena, print, digital or online after September 1, 2006, you’re considered published and therefore ineligible for First Impressions, regardless of market (ABA or CBA aka Christian).

20:  I have copyrighted my work. Does that make it ineligible to enter?

No. It doesn’t matter if your work has been copyrighted as long as that copyright has not been completed by a publisher.

21: I have written a children’s picture book. May I enter it into First Impressions?

Certainly! Picture books will not be excluded from entry eligibility as long as they meet all other guidelines. 

22: What if I get a request from an agent or editor during First Impressions? Do I have to pull out of the contest?

No, and congratulations! Our goal is to help you hone your work into something publishable. You will not be required to withdraw your entry unless your book is contracted before the entry deadline.

23: I had a poetry book published. Am I eligible for First Impressions?

Yes. By published, we mean in novels or novellas. Poetry books are not considered novels.

24: My manuscript is unpublished and complete. Should I enter it into the Genesis instead of First Impressions?

You may enter it into both if you wish. Feedback from First Impressions can help you ready a Genesis entry as score sheets and feedback will be returned to entrants before the Genesis entry deadline, in plenty of time for entrants to tweak their First Impressions-entered pages for Genesis.

25: I am not an ACFW member. Can I still enter First Impressions?

Yes, but it’s cheaper if you become a member. Plus, we’d love to have you join us!

26: I have a question that cannot be answered here or on the First Impressions guidelines or entry page. What should I do?

Read through the Genesis guidelines here: since both contests are running nearly identical rules.

For more information, contact the category coordinator at