The Zebulon: Rules

OFFICIAL RULES for The Zebulon 2019


The Zebulon is Pikes Peak Writers Fiction Writing Contest, designed to mimic the current process of publishing by employing a multi-tiered judging format and a three-pronged submission consisting of a query letter, a synopsis, and a selection from the manuscript. Pikes Peak Writers believes that in order to succeed in today’s market, writers must not only be able to write good books, they must be able to convey their stories concisely (synopsis) and present them in an appealing way so as to entice agents or editors to actually pick them up (query letter). Not all publishing industry professionals follow an identical set of guidelines when considering a manuscript, so an individual’s publication experiences will vary widely. The Zebulon aims to emulate the general model of the publishing experience as a means of education and improvement for writers everywhere.


The Zebulon is for published or unpublished writers of novel-length fiction. Anyone may enter regardless of whether or not they have been published and regardless of the format of the publication (self-publication, digital publication, traditional publication, etc.).

The entry submitted in the contest must be a previously unpublished manuscript. Entrants must certify that the entry has not been accepted for publication prior to the date of entry. Manuscripts that previously have won first place in a PPW contest are not eligible for entry. Manuscripts that are part of an already published series are not eligible for entry.

Because first place in each category has the opportunity to attend Pikes Peak Writers Conference at no cost (other than your travel and hotel costs, which you cover), we require all contestants to be at least eighteen (18) years old. This is the same age requirement for all of our conference attendees.


The Zebulon is a contest for novel-length fiction. It does not accept short stories, children’s books below middle grade, screenplays, poetry, or nonfiction entries including memoir and creative nonfiction. Each entry must be submitted in one of the following categories:

  • Middle Grade/Young Adult
  • Mainstream/Literary/Historical
  • Romance/Women’s Fiction
  • Mystery/Suspense/Thriller
  • Science Fiction/Fantasy
  • Urban Fantasy/Horror/Paranormal


The Zebulon opens for submissions Saturday, September 1st, 2018. Entries must be received by 12:00 PM (Noon) MST on Thursday, November 1st, 2018. A maximum of 200 entries will be accepted.


The Zebulon is an electronic contest. Contest entry takes place at this site:

You may create an account before the contest opens.


All entries must be electronic and uploaded to the contest portal (website address above). Emailed or paper entries are not accepted. All judged entries and critiques will be returned via email. At the conclusion of the contest, PPW will delete all electronic submissions.


Each submission consists of three documents in .doc format (not .docx).

  • Query Letter: A one-page business letter written to one of our virtual agents. These fictional agents have been created for the purpose of lending depth, realism, and fun to the query letter portion of the contest.  Please see the list of the agents for the categories. Neither your name nor any other personally identifying information may appear within the query letter. Example, while you can include that you have a website, blog or other social media connection, you cannot include the name of your blog or website. You will sign off as “I.M. Writer.”
  • Synopsis up to 500 words in length. Your name may not appear anywhere within this document.
  • Manuscript Pages. Entrants must send the first 2500 words of their manuscript as a sample of their work. If the novel has a prologue, the first 2500 words may begin with the prologue or with chapter one. Your name may not appear anywhere within this document.


Query Letter must be formatted as follows:

  • Document must be in .doc format (not .docx).
  • Single-spaced.
  • Ragged right margin. Use left justification. Do not use center, right, or full justification.
  • A one-inch margin all around (top, bottom, left, and right).
  • Submission must use 12-pt. Courier New or 12-pt. Times New Roman font only. (Be aware that many word processors do not default to these fonts.)
  • No personally identifying information.
  • Use the fictitious author contact information listed below in your query letter:

I.M. Writer
123 Zebulon Place
Colorado Springs, CO 80900
Tel: (719) 023-4568

Synopsis and Manuscript Pages must be formatted as follows:

  • Documents must be in .doc format (not .docx).
  • Double-spaced.
  • Ragged right margin. Use left justification. Do not use center, right, or full justification (although the title and chapter headings may be centered).
  • A one-inch margin all around (top, bottom, left, and right).
  • Submission must use 12-pt. Courier New or 12-pt. Times New Roman font only. (Be aware that many word processors do not default to these fonts.)
  • Pages must be numbered.
  • Headers may include title and page number, but not the name of the author.
  • Remember to adapt your header so that no reference to your name or other personally identifying information is included.

NOTE: These formatting guidelines are helpful when submitting to an editor or agent, but there is no gold standard in the industry. When actually submitting to an industry professional, do your homework and find out exactly what format you should use. A simple trip to their website will usually answer your questions.


The fee is $20 per entry. You can also purchase critiques of your submission for an additional $20 per critique (limit two per submission). See the section on critiques for more details.

Payment must be made online via PayPal. There is a “Pay For Your Entries/Critiques” link in the menu at the top of the contest website. PayPal will allow you to make a payment with a credit card without establishing a PayPal account.


Entrants can purchase up to two critiques of their submission for an additional $20 per critique.  Each critique is a one-page (minimum), single-spaced document detailing the strengths and weaknesses of the submission as well as recommendations for improvement.  Critiques are written by the contest judges but not the VIP judges.


The same manuscript may be entered multiple times, but it must be entered in different categories. A manuscript submitted a second time must be entered as a completely separate entry and include all applicable documents and fees. We recommend you limit the categories you submit your manuscript to, as each entry will be judged by the standards of the genre you’ve selected.

There are no limits on how many different manuscripts one person may enter. Each manuscript submitted must be entered as a completely separate entry and include all applicable documents and fees.


In order to effect a fair and equitable contest, judges are not aware of the identity of the entrants. If the entrant’s name appears on the query letter, the synopsis, or the manuscript pages, the entry will be disqualified. A disqualified entry may still be judged and critiqued, but will not be eligible to advance to the final round of judging or to win.

Double check the titles within your documents, the headers, footers, and main text of your documents to ensure that your name or other personally identifying information does not appear.

ROUND ONE: Query Letter Judging

In the first round, two judges look at your query letter. If the average of the two scores is 80% or above, the entry advances to the next round.

ROUND TWO: Manuscript Pages and Synopsis Judging

In the second round, the manuscript pages and synopsis of each submission that successfully passed through the first round are judged.  Every entry is scored by two judges. If the two scores diverge by thirty-five points or more, then a third judge will score the entry. The two closest scores of the three will be used. (There still may be a gap of thirty-five points or more between some scores, but the entry will not be scored again.) The three entries with the highest scores in each category will advance to the VIP round. An average score of 80% or above is also required to advance to the final round.


Real publishing professionals, usually editors or agents attending PPWC, serve as judges for the final round. They determine the order of the top three entries in each category.

VIP judges are not required to make comments or offer critiques. If a VIP judge does give feedback on the submission, it will be forwarded to the author.


The top three winners in each category will be notified of their placement by the end of March. Winners will be notified by phone or email.


Winners will be recognized at The Zebulon Awards Banquet on Saturday night of the 2019 Pikes Peak Writers Conference. The first place winner in each category will be refunded his/her Conference registration fee if attending PPWC 2019, or will be awarded a prize of $100 if not attending. Second place will be awarded $40. Third place will be awarded $20. Prizes are awarded via checks.

All winners attending PPWC 2019 will be given top priority with respect to their editor/agent query 1-on-1 appointment selections.


Completed scoresheets, purchased critiques, and any judges’ comments will be emailed to entrants before PPWC 2019.


Mark these dates on your calendar:

  • September 1, 2018: Contest opens.
  • November 1, 2018 at 12:00 PM (Noon) MST: Contest closes.
  • End of March 2019: Contest winners notified.
  • Early April, 2019: Contest entries returned electronically.
  • May 3-5, 2019: 27th Annual Pikes Peak Writers Conference at the Colorado Springs Marriott.
  • Night of Saturday, May 4th, 2019: Zebulon Contest Banquet at the Pikes Peak Writers Conference.