Rising Star Contest


The 2016 Rising Star Contest for Unpublished Women’s Fiction

This contest is designed exclusively for the unpublished women’s fiction writer. It offers the chance for priceless feedback from three published authors, plus the opportunity to break out of the slush pile and land on the desk of five final round judges, all acquiring agents of women’s fiction.

The Rising Star Contest for unpublished women’s fiction has NO categories. It’s open to all women’s fiction*, from contemporary to historical, mainstream to literary, realistic to paranormal, and everything in between, as long as the story’s focus is on the main character’s emotional journey.

*Not sure if your manuscript fits under the women’s fiction umbrella? See below under “Contest Eligibility”

Logo designed by Erika Marks.

The Rising Star Contest is limited to the first 75 entries. Detailed score sheets with comments will be provided to all entrants, and the top five (5) finalists will advance to the final round with one week to update entries based on first round judges’ score sheets and comments. Please note that the Rising Star is for completed manuscripts and finalists may be asked to submit the full manuscript. 

Important Dates

Contest Opens: April 3, 2016 (3:00 p.m. E.T.) for WFWA members, May 1, 2016 for non-WFWA members* (*space permitting)

Entry Deadline: May 8, 2016

Finalists Announced: July 24, 2016

Edited Finalist Entries Due: August 1, 2016

Winners Announced: September 23, 2016 during the WFWA Retreat

Entry Submission Details

After registration is complete, submit the first thirty-five (35) pages of a completed manuscript (60,000 words or more), plus a 2-3 page synopsis to risingstar@womensfictionwriters.org. (The synopsis is not judged.)

Entry Fee

$30 WFWA Members $35 non-WFWA Members

First Round Judges

Click here to see bios of first round judges

Final Round Judges

Katie Shea Boutillier (Donald Maass Literary Agency) - 

Katie Shea Boutillier joined the Donald Maass Literary Agency in 2011. She is the Rights Director handling the agency’s translation and audio rights, and selected film/TV and electronic rights. In addition, Katie is a literary agent who represents women’s fiction, realistic YA, sweeping love stories, and quirky narrative non-fiction. She looks for projects with a balance of plot and emotion. She loves novels with big voices, imperfect characters, and storylines that relate to modern issues. 

Jeff Kleinman (Folio Literary Management) -

Jeff Kleinman is a literary agent, intellectual property attorney, and founding partner of Folio Literary Management, LLC. His interests include nonfiction, especially narrative nonfiction, and fiction with well-written, character-driven novels; some suspense, thrillers; mainstream commercial and literary fiction.

Donald Maass (Donald Maass Literary Agency) -

Donald Maass founded the Donald Maass Literary Agency in New York in 1980. His agency sells more than 150 novels every year to major publishers in the U.S. and overseas.  He is the author of The Career Novelist (1996), Writing the Breakout Novel (2001), Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook (2004), The Fire in Fiction (2009) , The Breakout Novelist (2011) and Writing 21st Century Fiction (2012).  He is a past president of the Association of Authors’ Representatives, Inc. 

Elaine Spencer (The Knight Agency) -

Elaine Spencer has been with The Knight Agency since 2005. She is the VP of Operations and an Associate Agent. Also a member of RWA and AAR, she is interested in a wide-variety of subgenres including but not limited to romance, women’s fiction, young adult and middle grade material. She loves stories that include dogs, cooking, fashion, secret societies or clubs, southern flair, wit and humor, heart-tugging conclusions that will bring her to tears and smart sassy characters that stay with you long after the final pages.

 Carly Watters (P.S. Literary Agency) -

Carly Watters is a VP and Senior Literary Agent for the P.S. Literary Agency.She is actively seeking smart book club fiction, women’s fiction, upmarket fiction, commercial fiction, literary thrillers, and platform-driven nonfiction. Carly is drawn to emotional, well-paced narratives with a great voice and characters that readers can get invested in. Clients include Taylor Jenkins Reid, Karen Katchur, Andrea Dunlop, Jay Onrait, Larry Smith, Jennifer Carlson and many more. She has been a judge for the Women’s Fiction Writers Association’s “Rising Star” award for the past two years. Her blog has been named one of 101 Best Websites for Writers by Writer’s Digest magazine for three consecutive years.  


Rules & FAQs

Contest Eligibility

Contest Rules and Definitions

Announcement of Finalists & Final Round



Open to all writers who have never been published in book-length women’s fiction (60k words or over). All work must be the writer’s original work that has not been contracted for publication prior to the entry deadline. Failure to comply with any of the rules may disqualify the entry, resulting in a forfeit of the entry fee.

I have an excerpt of the manuscript on my website. Does that still count as “unpublished”?
For the purposes of the Rising Star Contest, ‘unpublished’ means that the novel has never been published in any way and that it does not come under contract for publication by the entry deadline. If an excerpt of the novel appears on the author’s website, it may still be considered ‘unpublished’ subject to the conditions that (1) the excerpt is the only text that exists for public viewing, (2) the excerpt is not available for purchase, and (3) the number of words posted does not exceed 15% of the novel’s total word count.

I’ve self-published my book. Can I still enter?
Sorry, but no. Self-published authors are considered published.

Does that mean that if I’m published in science fiction or romance or poetry, I can enter?
Yes, as long as the manuscript you are submitting clearly falls under the women’s fiction umbrella and has not been published or contracted for publication.

How do I determine if my manuscript fits under the Women’s Fiction definition?
WFWA defines women’s fiction as “stories that are driven by the main character’s emotional journey.”

If, in other contests, your manuscript would best fit under another category such as Romance, New Adult, or Young Adult, it is not women’s fiction and, therefore, not eligible for the Rising Star.


The Rising Star contest is open to the first 75 entries only. One entry per person.

You need not be a member of WFWA to enter, but the contest will open to WFWA members first, and spaces are expected to fill quickly. There is no guarantee that there will be space for non-member entries. 

Entry fee: $30 for WFWA members. $35 for non-members.

Entry: First 35 pages of a completed* manuscript plus a 2-3 synopsis (Synopsis will not be judged).

Entries should be sent to risingstar@womensfictionwriters.org

Entries should be formatted as you would for submission to an agent or editor. First 35 pages means the consecutive pages beginning with page one of your manuscript.

The body of each document must be double-spaced (25-26 lines per page), with one inch margins, indented paragraphs, 12 point professional font – Times New Roman or Courier are acceptable. Chapters begin one third of the way down the page.

The manuscript title and page numbers must appear in the headers (top of page) on every page of the partial manuscript and synopsis.

No other personal identifying information (such as name, address, e-mail, or phone number) may be included on the entry.

Entries should be saved as .doc or .docx files with the title name only. For example, MANUSCRIPTNAME.DOC

An entry will be disqualified and the entry fee forfeited if an entrant fails to meet any of the eligibility or formatting requirements.

The Rising Star accepts electronic entries only.

*Please note that finalists may be asked to submit the full manuscript.

I haven’t included a cover sheet and my name isn’t in the header so I’m okay, right?
You’ll need to check the Properties of your document. In Word, go to the File menu and click on Properties. Delete any personal information. You can have the manuscript title, but not your name or pen name or other identifying information.

Entrants are asked to submit their entries to the WFWA’s Entries Coordinator (risingstar@womensfictionwriters.org) by midnight EST on the day of registration. Entrants who fail to submit their entries to the WFWA’s Entries Coordinator by midnight EST on May 8, 2016 will be disqualified, and the entry fee will be forfeited.

Every entry will be judged by three published authors. Each entry will receive a detailed score sheet from three qualified judges. Judges comments will be encouraged. WFWA cannot guarantee that all judges will comply with this suggestion.

 The five finalists will be notified via email and the official finalist list will be posted on the WFWA website on or about July 24, 2016. All finalists will have one week to incorporate revisions based on first round score sheets.

Finalists will be judged by five (5) agents actively acquiring women’s fiction clients.

Winners will be announced on September 23, 2016 during the WFWA Retreat.

 The winner will receive a crystal Rising Star award. Second and third place winners will receive a certificate.

The first, second and third place entries will receive a badge to put on their website.

The top scoring entries will also have the opportunity to have a 15 minute phone discussion with one of the final round judges.