Gateway to the best

A contest for unpublished and self-published authors

The annual Gateway to the Best contest is open to anyone not published since July 30, 2014 and self-published authors with any work that has not at any time been published or self-published. MORWA will consider any work available for purchase online or in print at any time to be published and ineligible. 

The 2017 Gateway to the Best contest is now closed for entry submission.

 You do not need to be a member of RWA® to enter this contest.  Open to the public.

View Official Rules

** All information on this web page is subject to the Official Rules of this contest.

The 2017 Gateway to the Best contest is now closed for submissions.  

Thank you to all of you who entered our contest.  MORWA sincerely appreciates your support.  Please keep an eye on your email and this page for further updates.  We expect to announce the first round and grand prize winners on or before November 5, 2017.  

categories and final round judges

Contemporary Single Title / Contemporary Series Romance/Romantic Suspense

Final Round Judge
Tera Cuskaden, Acquiring Editor, Entangled Publishing

A novel set between 1950 and the present that primarily focuses on a romantic relationship overcoming conflicts to reach a satisfying romantic conclusion. A contemporary single title romance generally exceeds 70,000 words and is targeted for release as a stand-alone novel. A contemporary series romance generally has between 40,000 and 70,000 words and meets the requirements of existing publisher series, like the many Harlequin series lines. Romantic Suspense must be a novel in which mystery, suspense, thriller, or action and adventure elements create or contribute to the main conflicts to be overcome in the satisfying resolution of the romance.


Final Round Judge Nicola Caws, Editor, Harlequin Historical / Mills & Boon Historical Romance 

A novel set in any time period prior to 1950 wherein the historically appropriate conflicts result in a satisfying resolution of the romance. Historical romances may use real historic locations or completely imaginary historic locations (for example, a fictional island kingdom off England's coast), but they use minimal (if any) magical, paranormal, fantastic, or fictional scientific elements. For example, a ghost story set in an otherwise historically and scientifically accurate Victorian England would be classified as an historical romance but a steampunk romance would not.


Final Round Judge
Stephanie Doig, Assistant Editor, Carina Press

A novel (taking place in an alternate reality present or past, fantasy, or futuristic setting) in which magical, paranormal, fantastical, or science fiction elements (such as preternatural characters, imaginary creatures, magic powers, and fictional technology) create or contribute to the main conflicts to be overcome in the satisfying resolution of the romance.

Young Adult/New Adult

Final Round Judge
Kinan Werdski
 Editor, Wild Rose Press

Novels about young adults, emphasizing their growth as they overcome conflict. The typical character is 15-21 years old and the plot may or may not include a romantic relationship. Good examples: Harry Potter, Twilight, The Vampire Diaries. Completed word count of 60-90,000 words. Example target imprints: Harper, Teen Dial Group/Penguin, St. Martin's Press, Little,Brown.

Women's Fiction

Final Round Judge
Rhonda Penders
 President and Editor in Chief,  Wild Rose Press

A novel (in any tone, style, or time period) told mostly, if not completely, from a female's point of view in which a woman's journey to understand her life or rediscover herself is the primary plot but where overcoming or dealing with a romantic conflict is integral to the story's satisfying resolution.


Category description word counts are for general guidelines only. If less than ten entries are received in any category, the contest coordinator may choose to combine the entries into another category. Entrants are encouraged to list an alternate category they want their entry judged in if the categories are combined.


The Grand Prize winner will receive a full edit of her entire manuscript by Joy Editing, the coveted Gateway to the Best charm, a Grand Prize certificate, and a "Gateway to the Best Grand Prize Winner" electronic banner announcing the win for the author's website.

First, second, and third places are awarded in each category.  See official rules for category winner prizes and judging calculation methods.

View Official Rules

Schedule and deadlines

The Gateway to the Best contest will open for entry submission on August 15, 2017. 

Entries must be RECEIVED not later than 11:59 pm CDT September 15, 2017.

First Round Finalists Announced on/about: November 5, 2017. 

Final Judging Results Announced on/about: December 5, 2017.

judging criteria

Each entry will be judged by three experienced judges with the lowest of the three scores dropped from the final tabulations. 
 Judges will be encouraged to write comments on both the score sheet and manuscript.

View Judge's Score Sheet

submission package

The Gateway to the Best Contest is an electronic format only contest. Please read the official rules prior to completing the submission process.

Manuscripts must be in Word .doc, .docx (preferred) or standard .rtf (rich text format) only. We will reject entries that do not conform to one of these formats.

View Official Rules

Here's some of our frequently asked questions!

How do you check the word count I submitted?

We use the word count feature in our word processing software when we first review your manuscript.  

We have found instances in which documents converted from Mac Pages to .docx format has increased the word count between the two programs.  

What if my word count is over 7,000 words?

Accidents happen.  The contest or category coordinator has the option of contacting the author and asking for the submission file to be fixed, letting the manuscript pass on to the judges as is, modifying the manuscript themselves, or refusing to accept the entry. 

 Please note that refusing the entry because of incorrect word count does not justify a refund of entry fees.

Should I send a Synopsis with my manuscript?

Please don't send a synopsis.  

The Gateway to the Best contest asks our judges to look at your story the same way most readers do - by sitting down with the first 25 or so pages and reading them.

We don't want the judge to be influenced by the story your synopsis reveals, but by the writing you provide them.

If you do include a synopsis, we will remove it from the file before forwarding your ms to the judges.

Who judges my entry?

First round judges are other published and unpublished authors from within MORWA and elsewhere.  

When we ask for volunteers to help judge our contest, we look for people - like you - who read romance novels first, and understand the craft of writing romantic fiction second.
In other words, you're reaching three people who like to read the kind of book you've written.

Final round judges are editors from print and digital publishing houses who have graciously volunteered their time to read the top three scoring entries in each category.

what is my entry fee used for?

MORWA is a non-profit organization operating as a chapter affiliate of Romance Writers of America®.

The Gateway to the Best contest is our primary fundraiser that allows us to provide both our member services and our special events that we open to the public.  

Your entry also supports the administrative costs of running this contest.

do i need to worry about formatting?

Yes, you do.  At least a little.

Most publishing houses have guidelines on how they want your manuscript formatted. To get you used to that, and to ensure our judges receive standardized entries, we ask that you follow the formatting guidelines in the contest's official rules.

If your entry is not formatted according to our rules, the category coordinator may return the submission for revision, or revise the submission prior to forwarding the entry to the judges. 

what does an "all-electronic" contest mean?

 The Gateway contest was one of the first writing contests to go "all-electronic".  We realized it was taking a lot of money to mail manuscripts around the country, so we chose to do everything via email several years ago.

You'll fill out a web-based submission form and upload your manuscript file to a secure server and send your submission to us via e-mail.  Payment may be made via PayPal or a check mailed to us.  You'll get at least one confirmation e-mail when your submission is received and often another when your payment is confirmed.

 Judges will receive the manuscript and instructions via e-mail.  Judges will use a web-based scoring form and upload their commented manuscript, which is also stored on a secure server as well as e-mailed to the contest coordinators.

Results are e-mailed back to the entry author.

An all-electronic contest has saved a lot of money and trees!

why should I enter the gateway to the best contest?

There are usually two reasons to enter writing contests.

One is to catch the eye of an editor or agent judging in the contest with your entry in the hopes they'll like it and request a full or partial manuscript, which will lead to publication, fame, and fortune.

The other reasons to enter contests like the Gateway to the Best is for feedback.  For a small monetary investment, you will get feedback from at least three people who've never read your work before.  Your first round judges are readers who can give you honest, helpful opinions on what works or doesn't work in your story.  Many judges often provide recommendations on resources to help (books, websites, etc.) you strengthen your weak areas and capitalize on your strong areas.  You get to choose which advice to to use in your writing.


Sure!  In the first round, each manuscript is sent to three first round judges.  We ask the judge to read and evaluate your manuscript against a standard score sheet.

We also ask judges to make comments about what the author did well and suggestions for improvement both inside the manuscript and in the comments section of the score sheet.

The first round judges return the score sheet and commented manuscript and we review the comments to make sure they're appropriate.  Our goal is to give you constructive feedback to make your story the best it can be.

The grand prize winner is determined by adding up the three judge's scores.  The prize is awarded to the highest mathematical score in the entire contest, across all categories.

Category finalists are determined by adding the highest two scores (the lowest score is dropped) and ranking the entries in each category for the highest three scores.    The category finalists are sent to the final round judges.

We ask the final round judge to rank the entries first, second, and third.  Some final round judges will provide additional comments or request full or partial manuscripts for publishing consideration.

View 2017 Gateway Judging Score Sheet

if you've read the official rules, looked over the score sheet and still have questions...