Institute of Children's Literature presents



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Pull out those magnifying glasses!

It's time to lure us in with the first pages of your mystery novel for middle grade readers.

This contest is your chance to write a fiction mystery first page for kids ages 8-12 years old. It can be funny or ominous or somewhere in between.

Entries for this contest will include a one-sentence book summary followed by no more than 1,000 words from the beginning of your book. (Book summary sentence not included in first pages word count. The full manuscript does not need to be finished in order to enter.) Your first page should be previously unpublished.

DEADLINE: November 15, 2021

What's our judge looking for?

Book summary:

Please include a one-sentence book summary such as you’d find on the copyright page of a traditionally published novel. These summaries will often—but not always—contain the name of the character, the setting in which the story takes place, and an idea of the central conflict. Read examples from your favorite books to study how editors can distill a book down to its essence. Here’s an example from Premeditated Myrtle by Elizabeth Bunce, which won the Edgar for best middle grade mystery last spring:

 When twelve-year-old aspiring detective Myrtle Hardcastle learns her neighbor in quiet Swinburne, England, a breeder of rare flowers, has died, she is certain it was murder and that she must find the killer.

First Page:

Engaging first page: The first line, the first paragraph, the first page—they must all persuade the reader to keep going.

Believability: Provide the details and specifics that will make readers sink into your world and keep them there.

Voice: That undefinable quality. You know it when you see it.  

Characterization: A unique protagonist with a well-developed supporting cast.

Mechanics: Proper punctuation, grammar, formatting. Busy editors expect a clean manuscript as a mark of professionalism. Weaknesses in those areas, on the other hand, could suggest lack of attention to detail with respect to story logic, plot holes, and consistent characterization.  

Why Enter an ICL Writing Contest?

 $1,300 Cash Prizes 

  • 1st prize = $650
  • 2nd prize = $350 
  • 3rd prize = $100
  • 4th prize = $100
  • 5th prize = $100 

Online Workshop

All entrants are invited to a FREE instructional online workshop with our esteemed judge.

Free Critique

Winning entries will be workshopped by our judge to help writers understand what worked and what could be improved to make it submission-ready.

Enter Today!

Middle Grade Mystery Mentor Texts

Here are a few examples of great middle grade mysteries to give you some mentor texts to study as you polish your entry:

  • Chirp by Kate Messner
  • When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead
  • Holes by Louis Sachar
  • Greenglass House by Kate Milford
  • Zora & Me by Victoria Bond
  • From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg

Here's what you need to know...

  • Entries should be no more 1,000 words.
  • Entries should include a one-sentence book summary at the top of the entry. Book summary not included in 1,000 word count.
  • Entries should be the beginning of mystery novel for middle grade readers. (Novel does not need to be finished in order to enter.)
  • No illustrations or photographs should be submitted with your entry.
  • Entries should be aimed at readers between 8-12-years-old.
  • Proofread your entry to ensure it matches standard manuscript format (double spacing, clear contact information, no creative use of fonts).
  • Entries must follow manuscript submission guidelines as stated on our Contest Rules page HERE.
  • Entries must be submitted via our online form by midnight Pacific Time on November 15, 2021.
  • There is a $19 reading fee per manuscript to enter the contest.
  • You may enter more than one manuscript but each entry requires a $19 reading fee.
  • Add our email address ( to your list of contacts and/or safe senders so you can receive the email with the free entry information to our online workshop where we announce the winners. (Non-entrants pay $7.)
  • Minimum age to enter the contest is 18 years of age.

Submissions will be judged on clarity, originality, audience engagement, potential in the market, and appropriateness for the age range.

The winning entries in this Middle Grade Mystery First Pages Contest will be announced at a live online workshop within 90 days after the contest closes. All contest entrants will be notified of the event details by email and be invited free of charge. (Non-entrants may attend for a nominal fee of $7.)

This is a great opportunity to build your writing and submitting skills!

I'm In, Let's Do This >>