Best Unpublished Novel Contest

The Best Unpublished Novel Contest is a partnership between James River Writers and Richmond magazine.

The contest is closed to submissions.

Contest entries for 2020 go through the first round of judging from mid-March to mid-April. In mid-April, the top six authors are asked to submit their entire novel electronically. At that point, contestants who are not in the top six are notified as well. The final judge, Victoria Christopher Murray, chooses the winner by July 1, and JRW notifies the winner, the other finalists, and Richmond magazine. The winner is announced in Richmond magazine in the fall and celebrated at the JRW annual conference.


Contest Overview

Writers may submit the first 50 pages of a previously unsubmitted novel and the $25 entry fee.

The first-prize winner receives $500, publication of an excerpt in the September issue of Richmond magazine, a ticket to the annual James River Writers Conference, and feedback on the manuscript.


To submit an entry, the author must be a resident of Virginia, a student at a Virginia college or university, or a member of JRW. Richmond magazine and JRW employees and board members cannot enter.

Your manuscript must be a work of fiction.

Work may not have been published prior to contest submission. This includes self-publishing, small press publishing, print on demand, and publishing the work on a blog or website. If your work is accepted for publication, please let us know so that we may remove it from consideration. (If you have self-published a book, you may want to consider the Best Self-published Novel Contest.)

Each submission must have a cover sheet with the author’s name, contact information (include email, mailing address, and phone number) and the novel’s title. The author’s name can appear only on this cover sheet, not on any other pages. Manuscripts will be disqualified if submitted with authors’ names or other identifying information on any page other than the cover sheet.

Each page of the manuscript must have the title in the upper left corner, page numbers in the upper right, and be double-spaced with one-inch margins in Times New Roman or Arial font, size 12. Please print only on one side of the page. Use standard 8 1/2″ x 11″ white paper with nothing printed on the back. If possible, please keep your pages together with a binder clip. (There’s no penalty if you don’t have a binder clip; it just helps the office out.) Submissions will be recycled at the end of the contest.

Full manuscripts will be requested around the end of April 2020, if the submission passes the first round of judging. If requested, full manuscripts should be no more than 100,000 words.

Submission Process

Before you submit, please fill out the form below so that we will have your information in our system.

You may choose to pay the $25 entry fee by credit card on the form, or you may send a check with your fifty pages. Either way, please fill out the form first.

Click here for the form to record your entry in our system.

(If you mailed us an entry before we shared the form link, don’t worry. We’ll still accept your entry.)

Submissions will be accepted by USPS mail only. Please send the first fifty pages according to the contest rules to:

James River Writers
Best Unpublished Novel Contest
2319 E. Broad St.
Richmond, VA 23223

Please include either a check made out to James River Writers for $25 or a copy of the receipt you received when you paid online. (You can pay online using the form link above.)


Can I enter more than one book or a book with more than one volume?
You may enter multiple manuscripts or volumes with an entry fee for each one.

Can I enter multiple versions of the same manuscript to see which is better?

If I entered in a previous year but didn’t win, can I resubmit the same novel?
Only resubmit the same novel if you have done substantial edits since last time.

Do I have to have a completed novel to enter, or are the first fifty pages enough?
If your manuscript makes it past the first round, we’ll ask for your complete manuscript, so it better be ready to go by the end of March 2020 to be safe.

Is the contest open internationally or beyond Virginia?
If you are not a Virginia state resident or a college/university student going to school in Virginia, you can enter if you become a member of James River Writers ($45 annual fee).