Given the wide reach of the internet, there’s no shortage of writing competitions available to enter nowadays. In fact, if you spent enough time exercising some Google-fu, chances are you could pull out thousands of competitions, spread across almost any genre and style you could think of.

Some competitions are free, while others ask for a fee to enter. Some offer cash prizes that range from token payments to impressive sums, while others reward you with simple online recognition. But which ones are worth entering?

We’ve spent some time wading through the expansive sea of online competitions for fiction writers, and selected what we feel are some of the best options for you to try your luck at. To make this a regular resource that you can return to (make sure to bookmark this page!), we searched high and low for competitions that run on a regular basis (at least annually) and give you a mix of free and fee paying.

So let’s dig in!

 

Why should you enter a writing competition?

Writing competitions aren’t for everyone – but if you’ve never entered one, here are a few reasons why you should consider it.

  • The best competitions are adjudicated by authors, editors, and publishers. Even if you don’t win a prize, you’re bringing your work to the attention of professionals.
  • It gives you motivation to write – especially when the deadline is drawing close, and you’ve already paid an entrance fee!
  • If you’re struggling for inspiration, some competitions will give you a specific prompt. The prompt might be a picture, word or phrase, and this can trigger new ideas when you’re feeling dry. Even if you don’t finish in time for the competition, you’ll still be on your way to a new story.
  • Many competitions offer detailed feedback on your entry, which can help you improve as a writer.

 

What to watch out for

Competitions can be extremely variable. Some allow only unpublished writers to enter (great for nervous newbies), where others might be limited to regions. Some are open to anyone, of any experience, and any location.

Before entering any writing competition, we’d recommend taking the time for some due diligence. Ask yourself: who’s running it? Are they a big name? If the competition is free and there are prizes at stake, is the holder reputable enough that you’re sure they can fulfill the prizes they’ve promised?

A major publisher might open a free competition and give cash prizes – but why? How are they benefiting? The answer might lurk in the small print – so always check the rules carefully. Will you own the rights to your story once you hand it in? Could they publish it even if you do not win, and not pay you?

Here it is in bold, for extra emphasis:

Always check the fine print.

The same goes for paid competitions. Generally, these are competitions with a higher status and a professional panel of judges. They need to charge an entry fee to cover the costs of running a high-quality competition, and usually, the rewards involve a publishing deal of some kind – whether that’s a full contract or appearance in a reputable anthology.

But of course not all fee-paying competitions are trustworthy, so once again due diligence is the name of the game. Check the publisher or outlet that’s running the competition does have a following and is in good standing in terms of their releases. Are there any controversies surrounding them on social media? Perhaps they have a history of being late with author payments, or failing to release scheduled publications.

Never part with your hard-earned money as part of an entry fee unless you are 100% happy that both the reputation of the outlet and the terms and conditions of the contest are satisfactory.

Generally speaking, paid competitions often come with detailed feedback on your writing, owing to a more professional board of judges and level of administration. They do, of course, cost money – so that’s the negative there, along with the fact that the opposition you’ll be facing for the top spot is likely to be of a pretty high caliber.

Free competitions, well, you won’t lose any money by trying! Your rivals are more likely to be of amateur status, which increases your probability of seeing your work in print (most likely online). On the negative side, it’s less likely that you’ll see any feedback, and you’ll really need to pay attention to the terms and conditions of the competition, to make sure nobody is planning to seize hold of the rights to your work whether or not you win.

 

Our regular competition picks

Here’s a list of our choice picks for competitions that have regular openings for entries, along with details on cost, when they run, and the types of writers to whom they cater.

Many of these prizes run annually – so if they happen to closed right now, rest assured they’ll be back next year. That gives you plenty of time to conjure an impressive new story!


American Short Fiction Prize (LINK HERE)

The combination of financial incentive, publicity, and a very modest word count has competitive short story writers everywhere flocking to submit entries.

Besides the competition, the American Short Fiction publication accepts unsolicited submissions year-round, so be sure to check out their guidelines on the website!

Entry Fee: $17

Word Count: 1000 limit

Prize: $1000 and publication


ABR Elizabeth Jolley Short Story Prize  (LINK HERE)

The Australian Book Review’s short story prize is open to anyone, provided their submission is written in English – so no excuses even if you don’t live down under.

Entry Fee: $25

Word Count: 2000 – 5000 words

Prize: $7000 and publication


White review short story prize (LINK HERE)

Open to all genres, with no restrictions on theme or subject, the emphasis here is on rewarding “ambitious, imaginative and innovative approaches to creative writing.”

Entry Fee: £15

Word Count: 2000 – 7000 words

Prize: £2500 or $3000 and feedback


Drue Heinz Literature Prize (LINK HERE)

This competition, hosted by the University of Pittsburgh Press, is currently open to submissions from authors who have previously been published in physical form through a ‘reputable’ book publisher. Be sure to check the requirements closely.

Entry Fee: Free

Word Count: 150 -300 typed pages

Prize: $15000 and publication


New Voices Award (LINK HERE)

Presented by award-winning children’s publisher Lee & Low Books, this award is given for a previously unpublished children’s picture book manuscript (of no more than 1,500 words) written by a writer of color.

Entry Fee: Free

Word Count: 1500 words

Prize: $2000 and publication


W.Y. Boyd Literary Award for Excellence in Military Fiction (LINK HERE)

If you’re a war buff, this is the competition is for you. Administered by the American Library Association, this prize awards the best fiction set during a period when the United States was at war (war may either be the main plot of the piece or simply provide the setting).

Eligible works need to have been published in the year prior to the award.

Entry Fee: Free

Word Count: Unspecified

Prize: $5000


Friends of American Writers Chicago Awards (LINK HERE)

FAW presents two annual awards: an Adult Award for literary fiction or nonfiction, and an Award for a children’s/young adult book.

Entrants must live in one of the following states: Arkansas, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, North Dakota, Nebraska, Ohio, South Dakota or Wisconsin — or they must set their book in one of those locations.

Prize amounts vary each year but are between $500 and $2,000.

Entry Fee: Free

Word Count: Unspecified

Prize: Varies


Words & Brushes (LINK HERE)

We’ve picked this annual contest for its unique theme: it seeks to foster collaborations between artists and writers. Select a piece of artwork from the gallery provided and submit a short story inspired by it!

Keep this one in your sights for their next upcoming ‘collaboration.’

Entry Fee: Free

Word Count: 2000 – 5000 words

Prize: $350 and publication


Writer’s Digest Annual Writing Competition (LINK HERE)

Now in its 84th year, this contest spotlights up and coming writers in several categories, including memoirs, magazine articles, self-published novels, and short stories.

Entry Fee: Varies

Word Count: Varies

Prize: Varies


Some final tips to help your entry

  • If a prompt is given, read it carefully.
  • Check submission guidelines to ensure you meet the criteria.
  • Find out if you keep the rights to your story.
  • Read submissions by previous winners, if available.
  • Look up the judges – find out about their writing background and what may appeal to them.
  • Be mindful of scams.

To drill down into that last point, remember that if you are asked to pay to enter a competition, and then asked to pay more to get your work into an anthology which everyone willing to stump up the cash gets into – that’s generally a scam.

Yes, it can feel good to have your work published – but in cases where the competition itself is little more than a front for sourcing free material to publish (charges paid by the writers actually cover the costs of publication), you’re unlikely to find yourself receiving royalties or any other kind of standard publishing terms. In contests, fees on your end should extend no further than the entry fee.

Luckily, all of the choices listed appear to be perfectly reputable – so have at it, and good luck!

Do you know of any other regular competitions of good standing? Have you had experience entering any of the ones we’ve listed? Do you know of any contests your fellow AutoCrit readers would do well to avoid? Share it all in the comments below!

 

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