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Chest-O-Drawers Press / First Book Contest

Douglas Payne, Salted Rook coverThe Creative Writing Program's Chest-O-Drawers Press periodical offers a contest to one chapbook or book-length work of poetry, fiction, creative nonfiction, or hybrid form, as a first book. The 2016 winner, Salted Rook: Poems by Douglas Payne, received its own book launch reading became available for sale at nationally recognized online bookstores and vendors. All entries must be sent through the Grossmont College Creative Writing Program's First Book Contest submissions manager at



General Guidelines

Entries submitted via Submittable only, $5 reading fee per submission.

  • Prize award contingent on receipt of an adequate selection of suitable, qualifying manuscripts. Simultaneous submissions to other publishers or contests are permitted, but, if a manuscript is accepted elsewhere, please withdraw your manuscript from the First Book Contest and let us know about your happy circumstances so that we may remove your manuscript from judging.

  • One contest entrant per submission. Contest is open to all local/regional writers who are not employees of the Grossmont-Cuyamaca College District and who are bona fide residents of San Diego County during the contest’s submission, judging, and editing/publishing process.

  • Single-author manuscripts only, book-length (50+ pages) or chapbook-length (20-50 pages). Acceptable genres/categories: literary fiction; literary nonfiction (e.g., memoir); poetry; hybrid forms. Not accepted: graphic literature; children’s literature; manuscripts containing multiple genres (e.g., poems and short stories); art work and photography. Manuscripts should be primarily in English; translations into other languages are not eligible.

  • Previously unpublished manuscripts only. Manuscripts must not already have been published in book or chapbook form, nor be in production for book publication by another press or publisher. For the purposes of this contest, a "previously published" manuscript is a volume of prose or poetry already available through trade distribution (i.e. local and/or on-line, including Amazon or print-on-demand booksellers). Manuscripts containing individual works previously or currently being published in periodicals or anthologies are acceptable, as long as the manuscript, itself (or a version of it) has not already been published. Winner of the First Book Contest will be requested to provide citations for all published individual works that are included in, or integral to, the manuscript, including stories, poems, and excerpts appearing in periodicals and anthologies.

  • 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 their written creative content.

Submission Specs

You’re welcome to include as part of the submissions process a short bio or any relevant information about yourself and the manuscript. The document you submit, however, should

  • if prose, be double-spaced; if poetry, be single-spaced (with allowances for special typography and layout), each poem beginning on its own separate page in the manuscript;

  • be standard letter size (8.5 x 11") in portrait orientation and use Arial or Helvetica 12 pt. black font on white page background;

  • submitted as MS Word (preferred) or PDF;

  • have a cover/title page indicating the manuscript’s working title, as well as provide the author’s full name, residential address (not P.O. Box), and contact information (e-mail preferred);

  • include a "Table of Contents" if a collection of individual works or chapters;

  • have sequential pagination in the upper-right corner (document header) of all pages, excluding the cover page and table of contents; and,

  • identify in the header of the document, both, the author's last name and the title (e.g., Smith—My Title).

Frequently Asked Questions

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 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.


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