Free Legit Contests
Free Writing Contests - Be Cautious of Contest Scams
I ran into this article a year ago and thought it had some good information regarding contests. There are many contests out there that are SCAMS, charging for submissions and nobody wins or a predetermined "in-house" writer or relative is the winner <or> the costly contests where EVERYONE "WINS" (including the really good manuscripts, the badly written and edited manuscripts, and the ugly first draft manuscripts with spelling errors, awful grammar, and run-on paragraph length sentences, etc.) and you get one free "Collection of Contest Winners" book or booklet for umpteen dollars. So with the Everyone Wins contest, you wish to show off that you're published, and you buy a dozen more books... and that's the CATCH, only people who buy the poor quality book or booklet ARE the writers who paid to have their work submitted. You can say you're published, but look at the authors and publisher you're now associated with, and add up all the costs of the contest and booklets...that's an expensive way to say you're crappily published! Anyway, the contest below ARE legitimate contest, and they don't charge to enter your manuscript... but be aware, like anything that's free, they will get umpteen thousand entries - best of luck!! The link at the bottom contains up-to-date info from Kelly Gurnett.
27 Free Writing Contests: Legitimate Competitions With Cash Prizes
February 16, 2015 By Kelly Gurnett
Free writing contests
When I was about 12, I saw an ad in a magazine for a poetry contest that sounded fancy and impressive, something like “International Library of Poetry.” I bled poetry at that age, so I crossed my fingers and sent in a poem I’d been slaving over for weeks.
And, lo and behold, the people behind the contest quickly wrote back to tell me my poem had been selected as a winner!
I was speechless with honor. Of the thousands of poets who must have submitted to the contest — no doubt many of them adults much wiser and more skilled than me — my poem had been chosen to be featured in an exclusive, hardcover anthology! And honored on a something-karat-gold plaque!
Of course, I had to pay $50 if I wanted to see my work in print in the anthology, and I had to pay another $100 if I wanted the plaque. Those were the only “prizes.” Even as a pre-teen, I sensed a scam.
Sadly, not much has changed when it comes to companies trying to take advantage of writers who want a chance at recognition and maybe a little bit of money. Google the term “writing contests,” and you’ll come up with approximately 7.9 million results. It can be hard for a writer to know where to start looking for competitions, and how to tell if they’re legitimate or not. So I’ve done the legwork for you.
Here are 27 reputable, well-reviewed, free writing contests for poets, fiction writers, essayists and more. Some legitimate contests do charge a small entry or “reading” fee, but often a fee can be a red flag for a scam, so you may want to stick to free writing contests — and there are certainly enough of them.
Free writing contests --- Fiction and nonfiction writing contests: Ready to share your novel or personal essay with the world? Whether you’re a newbie or more established writer, you’re likely eligible for a few of these contests.
1. L. Ron Hubbard Writers of the Future Contest
Whatever your feelings about L. Ron Hubbard’s work and philosophy, the prizes for this regular contest are nothing to sneeze at. Every three months, winners earn $1,000, $750 and $500, or an additional annual grand prize worth $5,000.
Submissions must be short stories or novelettes (up to 17,000 words) in the genre of science fiction or fantasy, and new and amateur writers are welcome to apply.
Deadlines: Quarterly on January 1, April 1, July 1 and October 1
2. Graywolf Press Nonfiction Prize
Awarded to “the most promising and innovative literary nonfiction project by a writer not yet established in the genre,” this prize provides a $12,000 advance and publication by Graywolf Press.
If you live in the U.S. and have published at least one book (in any genre), you’re eligible to submit a current manuscript in progress for consideration. The judges look for winners who push the boundaries of traditional literary nonfiction.
Deadline: Annually in May
3. Drue Heinz Literature Prize
You can win $15,000 and publication by the University of Pittsburgh Press with this prize, awarded for a collection of short fiction.
You may submit an unpublished manuscript of short stories, two or more novellas or a combination of novellas and short stories. Your total word count should be between 150 and 300 typed pages.
Deadline: Annual submission window is May 1 through June 30
4. Tony Hillerman Prize
Presented by St. Martin’s Press and WORDHARVEST, this prize awards the best first mystery novel set in the Southwest with $10,000 and publication by St. Martin’s Press.
It’s open to professional or non-professional writers who have not yet had a mystery published, and there are specific guidelines for the structure of your story: “murder or another serious crime or crimes must be at the heart of the story, with emphasis on the solution rather than the details of the crime.”
Deadline: Annually on June 1
5. St. Francis College Literary Prize
This biannual prize honors mid-career writers who have recently published their third, fourth or fifth work of fiction. The winner receives $50,000 but must be able to appear at St. Francis College in Brooklyn, NY to deliver a talk on their work and teach a mini-workshop in fiction to St. Francis students.
Deadline: Biannually; the deadline for work published between June 2013 and May 2015 is August 15, 2015
6. Young Lions Fiction Award
This $10,000 award recognizes “young authors,” which the rules define as any author aged 35 or younger. Submit any novel or short story published or scheduled to be published in the calendar year. Works must be written for adults; children’s or YA pieces are ineligible.
Deadline: Annually in August
7. Real Simple’s Life Lessons Essay Contest
Have you ever had a “eureka” moment? If you have, and you can write a compelling personal essay about it in no more than 1,500 words, you may be able to win $3,000 in Real Simple’s annual essay contest.
Deadline: Annually in mid-September
8. New Voices Award
Presented by Lee & Low Books, an award-winning children’s book publisher, 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.
The winner receives $1,000 cash and a standard publication contract. You may submit up to two manuscripts.
Deadline: Submissions must be postmarked by September 30 each year
9. Ernest J. Gaines Award for Literary Excellence
This contest aims to provide visibility for emerging African American fiction writers and to enable them to focus on their writing by awarding a $10,000 cash prize. Eligible authors should submit a work of fiction, such as a novel or short story collection, published in the calendar year.
Deadline: Annually; the 2015 deadline is August 15
10. PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction
Honoring the best work of fiction published by an American author in a single calendar year, this award has been given to the likes of John Updike, Philip Roth and Ann Patchett.
The winner receives $15,000 and an invitation to read at the award ceremony in Washington, DC. Four finalists also each receive a $5,000 award.
Deadline: Annually on October 31 for books published that calendar year
11. Brooklyn Non-Fiction Prize
Presented by the Brooklyn Film & Arts Festival, this annual prize awards $500 cash for “the best Brooklyn-focused non-fiction essay which is set in Brooklyn and is about Brooklyn and/or Brooklyn people/characters.” (So it’s Brooklyn-centric, if you haven’t picked up on that yet.)
Submissions should be 4 to 10 pages (up to 2,500 words), and five authors will be chosen to read and discuss their submissions at the annual December event.
Deadline: Annually in mid-November
12. Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards
Fiction and nonfiction writers who have recently published a book that “contributes to our understanding of racism and our appreciation of the rich diversity of human cultures” are eligible for this award, which offers $10,000 cash as well media and publicity opportunities.
Submissions must be published in the prior year (so books published in 2014 are eligible for the 2015 award).
Deadline: Annual submission window is September 1 through December 31
13. Marfield Prize (a.k.a. National Award for Arts Writing)
Presented by the Arts Club of Washington, this award seeks to honor nonfiction books that deal with “any artistic discipline (visual, literary, performing, or media arts, as well as cross-disciplinary works).” This may include criticism, art history, memoirs and biographies, and essays.
Deadline: Annually in the last quarter of the year; the 2015 deadline has not yet been announced
14. W.Y. Boyd Literary Award for Excellence in Military Fiction
If you’re a war buff, this competition is for you. It awards $5,000 to the best piece of fiction set during a period when the U.S. was at war (war may either be the main plot of the piece or simply provide the setting). Submissions may be adult or YA novels.
Deadline: Annually on December 1
15. Friends of American Writers Chicago Awards
FAW presents two annual awards: an Adult Literature Award for literary fiction or nonfiction, and a Juvenile Literature Award for a children’s/YA book.
Authors must reside in the state of 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 from year to year but are typically between $500 and $2,000.
Deadline: Annually at the end of the year; the 2015 deadline is December 10
16. Hektoen Grand Prix Essay Contest
Hektoen International, an online journal dedicated to medical humanities, offers two prizes annually for essays of no more than 1,600 words in two categories.
The Grand Prize of $1,200 is given for an essay suited for their Famous Hospitals section, while a Silver Prize of $1,000 is given to the best essay suited for the sections of Art Flashes, Literary Vignettes, Moments in History or Physicians of Note.
Deadline: Annually; the 2015 deadline was January 31
17. Nelson Algren Short Story Award
Presented by the Chicago Tribune, this award presents $3,500 to one grand prize winner, $1,000 to four finalists and $500 to five runners-up for a short fiction story of less than 8,000 words.
You may submit up to two short stories, but note that your name must not appear anywhere on your submission as the process is anonymous.
Deadline: Annually; the 2015 deadline was February 1
18. Minotaur Books / Mystery Writers of America First Crime Novel Competition
Writers 18 and older who have never had a novel published (in any genre) are eligible for this prize, awarded for an original book-length manuscript where “murder or another serious crime or crimes is at the heart of the story.” The winner receives a publication contract with Minotaur Books and an advance of $10,000 against future royalties.
Deadline: Annually in the last quarter of the year. The deadline for 2015 awards has passed; the deadline for 2016 awards has not yet been announced.
19. Stowe Prize
This biennial prize of $10,000 honors an American author whose work has had an impact on a critical social justice issue (as did Harriet Beecher Stowe’s novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin).
In addition to submitting a copy of your book or written work, you must also complete a 250-word statement that describes the tangible impact your piece has made in the world and outlining any social justice work you perform outside of your writing.
Deadline: Biennially in odd-numbered years. The deadline for 2015 awards has passed; the deadline for 2017 awards has not yet been announced.
20. Amy Writing Awards
Christian writers are eligible for this award, which honors “creative, skillful journalism that applies biblical principles to stories about issues and lives.”
Submissions must have been previously published in a newspaper, local or national magazine, or on a news website and must contain at least one quote from the Bible. Columns and opinion pieces will be considered, but preference is given to news or feature article with original reporting.
Prizes are given for winners of first through fifth prizes (in amounts ranging from $10,000 to $2,000), plus 10 “outstanding merit” awards of $1,000 each.
Deadline: Annually; the deadline for 2014-2015 awards has passed, and the deadline for 2015-2016 award has not yet been announced.
Poetry contests: Curious about opportunities for poets? Your stanzas — rhyming or not — could be worth a fair amount of money in these competitions.
21. Naomi Long Madgett Poetry Award
Open to African American poets, previously published or not, this award provides a $500 prize and publication by Boardside Lotus Press for the best book-length collection of poems (approximately 60 to 90 pages).
Deadline: Annually on March 1
22. James Laughlin Award
If you’re already a published poet, this is the award for you; it’s given for a second book of poetry due to come out in the forthcoming year. The winner receives $5,000 and an all-expenses-paid week-long residency. In addition, copies of her book are distributed to the 1,000 members of the Academy of American Poets.
Deadline: Annual submission window is January 1 through May 15
23. African Poetry Book Fund Prizes
The APBF awards three prizes annually for African Poetry. The Glenna Luschei Prize for Afican Poetry gives $5,000 for a book of original African poetry published in the prior year.
The Sillerman First Book Prize for African Poets gives $1,000 and a publication contract for an unpublished book-length collection of poetry by an African author.
The Brunel University African Poetry Prize is a new prize that grants £3,000 to a poet who was born in Africa, is a national of an African country or has African parents, who has not yet had a full-length book of poetry published. (U.S. citizens qualify.) To submit, you’ll need 10 poems.
Deadlines: See individual prize pages
24. Tufts Poetry Awards
Claremont Graduate University presents two awards each year to poets they deem to be “outstanding.” The Kate Tufts Poetry Award grants $10,000 for a published first book of poetry that shows promise.
The Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award grants a mammoth $100,000 for a published book of poetry by an an established or mid-career poet.
Deadline: Books published between September 1 and June 30 of each year are eligible for the following year’s prize. The deadline for 2015 awards has passed; the deadline for 2016 awards has not yet been announced.
Writing contests with multiple categories: Some contests accept submissions in multiple categories, so you could submit a novella as well as a poem or other work.
25. Spark: A Creative Anthology
This quarterly competition awards a grand prize of $500 in three categories: prose, poetry and a new artwork category (if you’re visually as well as verbally gifted). Second-place pieces earn $100 and third-place ones earn $20, and all winners also receive valuable subscriptions and memberships.
Prose submissions (in the form of fiction or creative nonfiction) must be no more than 12,000 words, and poetry submissions no more than 150 lines.
Deadlines: Quarterly in December/January, April, June, and September/October
Ed. note: Spark has discontinued its free contest as of September 2015.
26. Binghamton University Book Awards
Sponsored by the Binghamton Center for Writers — State University of New York, this competition offers a $1,000 prize for work published in the previous year in two separate categories. The John Gardner Fiction Book Award goes to the best novel or collection of fiction, while the Milt Kessler Poetry Book award goes to the best book of poems.
Deadline: Annually on March 1
27. Writer’s Digest Annual Writing Competition
(Editor’s note: We were so excited to include this competition that we overlooked its entry fees. We’ll leave it in the post for those interested in submitting their work, but please note that this contest is not free.)
One of the longest-running writing competitions — it’s now in its 83rd year — this contest spotlights up and coming writers in a number of categories, including Memoirs/Personal Essay, Magazine Feature Article and Genre Short story.
The Grand Prize winner gets $5,000, a feature in Writer’s Digest magazine, a paid trip to a writing conference and more. Runners-up earn prizes in first through tenth places.
Deadline: Early-bird deadline annually in early May
Where to find more legitimate, free writing contests? Looking for more opportunities to submit your work to writing contests? Here are a few great sites to keep an eye on.
A number of the contests found on our list came highly recommended by this site, which compiles some of the best free literary contests out there. You can sort contests by recommendation level (Highly Recommended, Recommended or Neutral), view plenty of info on requirements and even see which contests are better for beginners, intermediate writers and pros.
They also offer a handful of contests themselves, including the Wergle Flomp Humor Poetry Contest (which sounds delightful).
Poets & Writers
Another fantastic source for legitimate writing contests I consulted when compiling this list, Poets & Writers vets competitions, contests, awards and grants to make sure they’re following legitimate practices and policies. It’s worth checking out regularly as it features both annual and one-time contests.
Cathy’s Comps and Calls
Writer, poet and editor Cathy Bryant sources legitimate, free-to-enter writing contests and calls for submission. She releases a new list of contests and calls each month, so check back monthly for new opportunities.