First Novel Prize

UPDATE: Due to Covid-19, the 2020 and 2021 First Novel Prize will be combined. Submissions are open until June 30, 2021. If you submitted to the 2020 First Novel Prize, your book is still being considered. The winner of the 2020/2021 prize will be decided in Fall 2021. 

Each year, The Writer’s Center awards a $1,000 check to the author of an exceptional first novel published in the previous calendar year. Conceived and funded by former board member Neal P. Gillen, the McLaughlin-Esstman-Stearns Prize honors three dedicated writers and members of The Writer’s Center faculty—the late Ann McLaughlin, Barbara Esstman, and Lynn Stearns—each of whom unselfishly nourish and inspire students and fellow writers.

Previous winners: Kayla Rae Whitaker for The Animators (2018), Sheila Martin for The Coney Island Book of the Dead (2017), Nadine Darling for It Came From Beyond! (2016), Bret Anthony Johnston for Remember Me Like This (2015), Raoul Wientzen for The Assembler of Parts (2014), Karen Thompson for Walker for The Age of Miracles (2013), Ismet Prcic for Shards (2012) Heidi Durrow for The Girl Who Fell From the Sky (2011).

Eligibility and Requirements

1) All first novels published in print in 2019 are eligible, including those published by major and independent presses. Only American authors publishing in English are eligible. Non-eligible books include: short story collections, flash fiction, memoirs, biographies, and books published solely in electronic format.
2) Publishers (or authors) must submit three copies of their published novel along with a contact cover sheet indicating name, address, phone number, and e-mail address (no cover letter required). No galley proofs will be accepted.
3) Following the judging process, books will not be returned. Writer’s Center staff, board, and workshop leaders may not enter.


The Writer’s Center will solicit a group of 15-20 volunteer judges to serve as first and second-round judges. These volunteers will evaluate books to determine if they meet eligibility requirements, and they will read and evaluate the submissions. Submissions advancing to the third round of judging will be evaluated by a team of three final judges. The winner is chosen at the sole discretion of the final judges.

The Winner

The winner will receive $1,000 and will be featured in The Writer’s Guide and our blog, First Person Plural. In addition, if feasible, they will be invited to read at The Writer’s Center during a reception to honor their work.

Submissions for the 2020/2021 prize are now open! The submission deadline is June 30th, 2021.

Send entries to:

The Writer’s Center
Attn: Grace Mott
Re: First Novel Prize
4508 Walsh St.
Bethesda MD 20815