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First Book Contest

First Book Contest Specs

What's the "First Book Contest"?

As part of the celebration surrounding the Literary Arts Festival’s 20th Anniversary, the Creative Writing Program will hold a FIRST BOOK CONTEST this year for writers who have taken one or more creative writing courses at Grossmont College in the past twenty years, and who have a sufficient writing portfolio for a book-length manuscript in one of the following genres: literary fiction, creative nonfiction, or poetry. The winner of the contest will be announced at an event during the 2016 Fall Reading Series.

The Creative Writing Program will select one chapbook or book-length work of poetry, fiction, or creative nonfiction to publish in 2017 in a run of 500 copies. Winner will be awarded a cash prize of $1000, 50 author's copies, and a book launch and reading during the 21st Annual Literary Arts Festival in 2017, which will also feature contest runners up and honorable mentions from the 2016 First Book Contest.


Submissions Deadline:


All entries must be sent through the Grossmont College Creative Writing Program's First Book Contest submissions manager.  Please do not request to make revisions once submissions period has closed.


General Guidelines

  • There is no reading fee.

  • Manuscript must be currently unpublished as a book or chapbook.

  • Manuscripts by Grossmont College students, current or alumni (living or nonliving), who have taken at least one creative writing course at Grossmont

  • College in the last 20 years, are eligible.

  • Contest is not open to current or past employees of the Grossmont-Cuyamaca Community College District.

  • All genre and hybrid forms are accepted, but mixed genre manuscripts are not encouraged.

  • One author only per manuscript; editorships and anthology manuscripts (multiple authors) will not be considered.


Submissions and Judging

Submit a previously unpublished book- or chapbook-length manuscript, with a table of contents. See "Eligibility" (below) for details about qualifying manuscripts, contestants, and course work.

Length, including Table of Contents:

  • Poetry: singled-spaced; no more than one poem to begin on a page

    • chapbooks: 30-50 pages
full-length books: 50-100 pages
  • Prose: double-spaced

    • chapbooks: 13,500-20,000 words (50-75 pages)
full-length books: 20,000-80,000 words (75-300 pages)

Document design

  • Use Arial or Helvetica 12 pt. font.

  • A title page should include the title and the author’s name, address, phone number, and e-mail.

  • In the title and header of your document, please include, both, the author's last name and the title (e.g., Smith—My Title).

All manuscripts will be read and considered with full respect, regardless of length, and no manuscript will be rejected simply because it's shorter or longer.

Judges will consider chapbooks in poetry, fiction, or creative nonfiction, including prose poems, flash prose, and hybrid forms. Manuscript-length mixed-genre forms are discouraged.

Manuscripts should be primarily in English; translations into other languages are not eligible.

Simultaneous submissions to other publishers or contests are permitted, but, if a manuscript is accepted elsewhere, notify the Grossmont College Creative Writing Program promptly to withdraw from the First Book Contest.

A winner will be selected and announced during the 2016 Fall Readings Series at Grossmont College. If, by the August 5, 2016 deadline, an adequate selection of suitable, qualifying manuscripts is not received, judges reserve the right not to award a prize. Additionally, the First Book Contest reserves the right of editorial judgment to reduce a book-length manuscript to a chapbook, in consultation with the winning writer.

Runners-up and Honorable Mentions will be named and invited to read from their participating manuscripts at the winner’s book launch during the 21st Annual Literary Arts Festival (April 24-27, 2017).



The First Book Contest winner will be announced during the 2016 Fall Reading Series. Winner to be awarded a cash prize of $1000. Book to be published by a professional publisher in Spring, 2017, in a run of 500 copies; winner receives 50 author's copies and agrees to be present at his or her book launch at the 21st Annual Literary Arts Festival (April 24-27, 2017), a weeklong celebration of the written and spoken word.

The winning manuscript will undergo an editing process before going to press, during which time the author will collaborate with designers on cover art: editorial staff will make the final decision on artistic design, and Grossmont College will retain rights to cover art; author (or his/her estate) will own copyright of written creative content.


Manuscript Eligibility

In the not-too-distant past, one of the only legitimate ways to declare yourself “published” was through a literary press capable of offset-printing.  Not only have publishing methods since diversified, nowadays it takes but an index finger to “press" and “publish” your words to a blog, forum, or other social media platform. Writers who put their work on the web don’t always know if they’re crossing a line between "making public" and “making published,” which could prevent you from calling your writing “previously unpublished.” 

Answers to commonly posed questions about "previously unpublished" are provided further down this page.


Contestant Eligibility

If you can prove that, while registered as a non-auditing student, you completed a Grossmont College creative writing class between January 1, 1996 and August 5, 2016, then you qualify for the First Book Contest. Excepting student aids, interns, and work-study students, past and current employees of the Grossmont-Cuyamaca Community College District are not permitted to participate in the First Book Contest.


Registration and Completion

“Registered" and "completed" means that you officially enrolled in, and did not withdraw from, a qualifying creative writing course, and that you received a grade or credit for it. However, your grade in the course is immaterial to the judging: it will not be a factor in the consideration of your contest manuscript.


Winner must be available during the subsequent editing process with the book’s designers and editors. Additionally, winner must agree to attend in person the official book launch during the 21st Annual Literary Arts Festival, April 24-27, 2017.


Posthumous Submissions

The First Book Contest judges will consider a manuscript by a qualifying non-living former student that is submitted by, or with the consent of, one or more legal survivors of the deceased. Proof of authorization should be submitted with the contest manuscript. If a posthumously submitted manuscript is selected as the winner of the First Book Contest, prizes will be awarded to a legal representative of the deceased under the conditions of availability explained above, and such representative must be present at the launch of the book during the 21st Annual Literary Arts Festival in 2017.


Eligible Course Work

Eligible contestants are expected to have been enrolled in at least one of the following qualifying creating writing courses at Grossmont College:

  • English 126: Creative Writing

  • English 130-133: Fiction Writing I-IV

  • English 134-137: Creative Nonfiction Writing I-IV (a.k.a., Article Writing)

  • English 140-143: Poetry Writing I-IV

  • English 145-148: Acorn Review: Editing and Production, I-IV

  • English 160-163: Play Writing I-IV (a.k.a., Drama Writing)

  • English 175-178: Novel Writing

  • English 299: Independent Study (in a specific creative writing genre)


Proof of Enrollment

Proof of non-audit enrollment status should be provided at the time of entry using the First Book Contest submissions manager. A digital copy of a Grossmont College transcript, whether official or unofficial, is preferred. You may print your unofficial transcripts from WebAdvisor to get your past grades, courses taken, semesters attended and grade point average:

  1. Login to WebAdvisor:

  2.  Proceed to the "student menu."

  3. Select "Academic History" under the "Academic Profile" heading.

  4. On the prompt "Transcript Type" select "WA WebAdvisor."

Official transcripts are also accepted, but unnecessary. The first two official transcripts EVER requested from Grossmont College are free. Once you’ve requested more than two official transcripts, the cost is $3.00 each. "Rush" official transcripts are $5.00 each. “Rush” means that the transcripts are processed and put in the mail within 2 business days. Transcript request forms are available on the Grossmont College website by visiting Student Services “Admissions Forms” area:

If you cannot obtain a transcript, please submit instead the following information, to the best of your memory, and we’ll take the steps to verify it for you:

  • the title of at least one Grossmont College creative writing class you took in the last twenty years;

  • the name of the course instructor;

  • the year and semester of your non-audit enrollment.


"Previously Unpublished"

The questions and answers below may help you to understand the “previously unpublished” eligibility of your First Book manuscript.  However, if you need further clarification, don’t hesitate to contact us. Questions not answered by the information on this page can be e-mailed at any time to Sydney Brown:

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Does performing my work mean I've published it?

While finer distinctions are made with scripted drama, general public performance of your writing (e.g., a public reading at a local performance space) does NOT constitute publication. This extends to amateur media recordings of performances posted to social media platforms, such as YouTube and ReverbNation. If a media recording that is in distribution uses your writing in its recorded content or on its packaging and liner notes, then, congratulations, you have been published. However, this would affect the status of your First Book manuscript only if your manuscript in its entirety were included in such a recording.


What if parts of my mss are, or will be, already published?

It's actually expected that, in advance of publishing a book or chapbook, you send out some of its works or excerpts for publication in journals, magazines, and anthologies.  This helps to build your reputation as a writer, which then helps give your book some literary gravitas.

If you post an individual work or excerpt to your own website, social media site, or writer’s forum, this could affect its eligibility when you submit it to journals and anthologies, but it won’t generally affect the eligibility of your First Book manuscript as a whole.

Generally speaking, posting your work to a website or forum only starts to matter when 20% or more of your manuscript is hosted in one place.  (This percentage may vary from one publisher to another.)  Making such a large chunk of your book openly available can blur the distinction between “public” and “published,” and you are strongly urged to un-post and un-cache your work from these sites while your manuscript is under consideration with us.

Can I submit elsewhere while under First Book consideration?

Yes. Simultaneous submission of manuscripts is now common in the writer's market, but publishers and editors seek first serial rights, the bragging rights of being the first to publish your specific piece of writing. Additionally, they prefer to avoid the embarrassment of the exact same pieces of writing being published elsewhere at roughly the same release date. If, while under consideration for our contest, your manuscript is accepted for publication by another agency, you are obligated to notify us immediately and withdraw from the First Book Contest. If you actually intend to publish your manuscript elsewhere while it is being judged in the First Book Contest, we kindly ask that you do not enter it into our competition.


Does a self-published mss disqualify me?
The general answer is, “Yes.” Regardless of print or electronic medium, if your manuscript has been in distribution at any time, whether for pay or free of charge, it is considered published. This includes desktop publishing, vanity presses, print-on-demand services (e.g., iUniverse), and publicly available PDF downloads. Your intent to distribute your manuscript determines whether or not it is published. If you have inadvertently made your manuscript available to the public, but you didn't intend for it to be distributed in whole or in part, then probably you still qualify for the First Book contest. However, your manuscript should immediately be un-posted and un-cached, and you must disable any means of distribution that could be otherwise misconstrued as publication of your manuscript.


What if I "published" my manuscript at my school?

As long as your campus press didn't officially publish your manuscript, it's not a problem. If you completed an undergraduate project, a creative Master’s thesis, or a creative Ph.D. dissertation that is bound and kept in a university library, even as a monograph, this is not considered “official” publication of your work. You still own copyright of your manuscript and can pursue publication of it for the “first” time. In fact, it’s quite common for graduates of writing programs to publish revised and/or expanded editions of the work they submitted in fulfillment of their degrees.

Furthermore, classroom use of your manuscript doesn't automatically mean it has been officially published, even if more than 20% of it has been duplicated and distributed—common for a workshop or writer's group. This applies, both, to students and education employees.  In most cases, the work duplicated for a classroom project will be an incomplete or earlier working draft anyway, but as long as you didn't print it for profit (e.g., sell it as part of a course packet or as part of a fundraising activity) and it was intended for educational use, no one will quibble about it being previously published.

Using school domains can be a gray area, however.  "Publishing" something to the web pages of an educational domain means it is protected (and, to some extent, owned) by the school's copyright, so some editors may argue that, by definition, you have published a work if it is publicly available on a school website.  On the other hand, schools very often avail their teachers of server space under their domain, where, as educators, they might occasionally post parts of their own or their students' writing for educational purposes—which tends to be at the discretion of the teacher (e.g., for a lesson about writing and editing, or for a class-wide web 'zine). Again, intention is the determining factor here.  If an instructor has used the school domain to distribute a manuscript, whether whole or in part, as a substitution for duplicating, most will not consider this to be formally published.  However, the wisest course of action is to insist on the use of encryption to limit access to these resources.  This also helps to safeguard the copyright.


Am I disqualified if someone on-line hijacked my mss?

The leaking of film scripts in advance of their movie release is a common occurrence today. In fact, long before there existed nefarious websites that crawled the web to obtain cached versions of any document with a .pdf extension, writer’s have had to deal with unauthorized distribution of their manuscripts. If you never intended for your manuscript to be made publicly available, and your attempts to disallow its distribution as yet have failed, this shouldn't’t disqualify you from the First Book Contest. However, we urge you to continue your attempts to resolve any unauthorized use of your work, and to notify us immediately of any important legal issues that arise because of it.

Last Updated: 08/23/2016
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