Writing contests can be a useful way to send your work out into the world. With a strong submission and a bit of luck, you can win publication, recognition, and even cash prizes.
This article will give you the inside scoop on the most high-quality writing contests to enter.
Are Writing Contests Worth Entering?
Entering writing contests can be useful for several reasons:
- They give you a deadline and often even a prompt to write about, which many writers find motivating
- The results can help you get a sense of where you are on your writing journey and how you can improve your craft
- Winning a contest can be a fantastic boost to your journey as a writer
On the other hand, it’s important to keep in mind that it takes a lot of luck to win a contest, since there are usually only a few winners chosen from among hundreds of strong contestants.
If your goal is to get your writing published, you’ll likely fare better by submitting to magazines and anthologies than by entering contests.
If your goal is to make money, you should prioritize freelance writing jobs instead.
With that being said, there are many incredible writing contests out there that can absolutely be worth your while, as long as you enter with realistic expectations.
What Are Some Writing Contests That Are Free to Enter?
Many writing contests cost fees to enter, since they give out cash prizes and hire guest judges that they need to pay for their time.
Charging an entry fee doesn’t necessarily mean the contest is a scam. It does mean, however, that you need to be judicious about which contests to submit your work to.
Free writing contests are more accessible to all writers, and there’s nothing to lose from giving them a shot.
We’ve compiled a list of legitimate, high-quality writing contests that charge no entry fees.
Prose Weekly Challenge
Prose, a social network for readers and writers, offers weekly challenges meant to spark your creativity. This is a fun, low-stakes challenge, with a small cash prize to sweeten the deal.
Prize: Each week’s winner receives $100.
Guidelines: Submit a short piece of writing (up to 500 words) related to the weekly prompt.
Prime Number Magazine 53-Word Story Contest
Press 53’s Prime Number Magazine hosts a monthly micro-fiction contest based on a theme.
All stories must be exactly 53 words long. There’s no cash prize, but this can be a fun and low-stakes contest to participate in if you’ve got some spare time and are looking for a writing prompt.
Prize: Publication, a free book from Press 53.
Guidelines: Submit a 53-word story based on a monthly prompt. Open to writers around the world who write in English.
Deadline: Monthly on the 15th of each month.
Dinesh Allirajah Prize for Short Fiction
The Dinesh Allirajah Prize for Short Fiction is an annual short story contest co-hosted by Comma Press and the University of Central Lancashire.
If you live in the UK and are interested in crime stories, this is a great contest to consider, with a £500 for the winner and publication for the runners-up.
Prize: £500 ($692) for first place, and publication for 10 shortlisted authors.
Guidelines: Submit a short story (between 2,000 and 6,000 words). The theme for the 2022 Prize is "Crime Stories." Only residents of the UK age 18 or older are eligible.
Deadline: October 29, 2021.
Commonwealth Short Fiction Prize
The Commonwealth Short Story Prize is an annual short fiction contest administered by the Commonwealth Foundation.
If you’re a short story writer and a citizen of a Commonwealth country, this contest is a fantastic option, with a generous £5,000 cash prize for the winner.
Prize: £5,000 ($6,922) for the overall winner and £2,500 ($3,461) for regional winners.
Guidelines: Entrants must be citizens of a Commonwealth country and age 18 or over. Submit a short story (between 2,000 and 5,000 words). As well as English, stories are accepted in the Bengali, Chinese, French, Greek, Kiswahili, Malay, Portuguese, Samoan, Tamil, and Turkish languages. Translated entries from any language into English are also eligible.
Deadline: November 1, 2021.
ServiceScape Short Story Award
ServiceScape is a platform that matches freelance writers, editors, and graphic designers with clients. They offer a yearly Short Story Award with a $1,000 prize.
Prize: $1,000 for first place and publication on the ServiceScape blog.
Guidelines: Accepts original, unpublished work (5,000 words or fewer) in any genre, fiction or non-fiction. Writers must be age 18 or older.
Deadline: November 29, 2021.
The Roswell Award
The Roswell Award is an annual science fiction contest with a $500 prize, co-presented by Sci-Fest L.A. and the Light Bringer Project.
This is a great option if you like using your writing to unite the worlds of science and art.
Prize: $500 for first place, $250 for second place, and $100 for third place.
Guidelines: Submit a science fiction story. Open to writers around the world age 16 or older. Writers are encouraged to explore scientific, social, technological, environmental, and philosophical themes in their writing and always, at the core, to master the art of great storytelling.
Deadline: December 21, 2021.
L. Ron Hubbard’s Writers of the Future Contest
The Writers of the Future Contest is the most enduring and influential contest in the history of science fiction and fantasy.
The contest is held once every three months, with a generous $1,000 prize.
Prize: $1,000 for first place, $750 for second place, and $500 for third place.
Guidelines: Submissions must be short stories or novelettes (up to 17,000 words) in the genre of science fiction or fantasy. Open to new and amateur writers around the world.
Deadline: Quarterly on December 31, March 31, June 30, and September 30.
Jim Baen Memorial Short Story Award
The Jim Baen Memorial Short Story Award is an annual contest, co-hosted by the National Space Society and Baen Books, for stories about manned space exploration.
If you’re interested in the role that science fiction plays in advancing real science, this is a great option that pays professional rates.
Prize: Professional paying rates (8 cents per word). The winner’s story will be published as the featured story on the Baen Books main website. The winner will also receive free entry into 2020 International Space Development Conference and a prize package with various Baen Books and National Space Society merchandise.
Guidelines: Submit a short story (up to 8,000 words) that shows the near future (no more than about 50-60 years out) of manned space exploration. The judges want to see moon bases, Mars colonies, orbital habitats, space elevators, asteroid mining, artificial intelligence, nano-technology, realistic spacecraft, heroics, sacrifice, and/or adventure. Open to writers around the world who write in English.
Deadline: TBD 2022 (the previous year’s deadline was February 1, 2021).
The Fountain Essay Contest
Fountain Magazine holds an annual contest for essays related to the personal challenges you’ve faced in your life.
Challenges can span from moving across the country and starting at a new high school or getting out of bed in the morning while undergoing depression. There are generous cash prizes for the winners.
Prize: $1,000 for first place, $500 for second place, $300 for third place, and $150 each for two honorable mentions.
Guidelines: Submit a personal essay (between 1,500 and 2,500 words) on the annual theme. All writers worldwide are eligible.
Deadline: TBD 2022 (the previous year’s deadline was March 1, 2021).
The Alpine Fellowship Writing Prize
Every year, The Alpine Fellowship awards writing, visual arts, and theater prizes related to an annual theme.
This is an extremely competitive fellowship, with global recognition for the winner and a whopping £10,000 first place prize.
Prize: £10,000 ($13,840) for first place, £3,000 ($4,150) for second place, and £2,000 ($2,770) for third place.
Guidelines: Submit a piece of writing related to the annual theme (2021’s was "Untamed: On Wilderness and Civilization"). Entries must be unpublished and a maximum of 2,500 words. Poetry, prose, or non-academic essays welcome.
Deadline: TBD 2022 (the previous year’s deadline was April 1, 2021).
Wergle Flomp Humor Poetry Contest
The Wergle Flomp Humor Poetry Contest is a contest for humor poems. This is a really fun contest if you like wordplay and witticisms, and you might even win $2,000.
Prize: $2,000 for first place, $500 for second place, and $100 each to 10 honorable mentions.
Guidelines: Writers of all ages can submit an original, humorous poem with 250 lines or less. The poem you submit should be in English. Inspired gibberish is also accepted.
Deadline: April 1, 2022.
Parsec Short Story Contest
Prize: $200 for first place, $100 for second place, and $50 for third place.
Guidelines: Submit a short story (up to 3,500 words) based on the annual theme. The 2022 theme has not yet been announced. (The 2021 theme was "Still Waters, Deep Thoughts").
Deadline: TBD 2022 (the previous year’s deadline was April 15, 2021).
Bacopa Literary Review Contest
Bacopa Literary Review is an international journal published by the Writers Alliance of Gainesville. They hold an annual contest that welcomes fiction, poetry, and creative nonfiction.
Prize: $300 for first place and $100 for second place in each of four genres: Fiction, Creative Nonfiction, Poetry, and Prose Poetry.
Guidelines: Submit a piece of writing in one of the four genres. You can find detailed guidelines for each genre on the website.
Deadline: TBD 2022 (the previous year’s deadline was May 31, 2021).
Stony Brook Southampton Short Fiction Prize
The Stony Brook Southampton Short Fiction Prize is a short story contest specifically for college students.
If you’re an undergraduate and want to try a writing contest, this is a fantastic option because you have a smaller set of competitors.
Prize: $1,000, a scholarship to the 2021 Southampton Writers’ Conference, and consideration for publication in TSR: The Southampton Review.
Guidelines: Only full-time undergraduates in United States and Canadian universities and colleges are eligible. Submissions must be short fiction (7,500 words or less).
Deadline: June 1, 2022.
Insecure Writer’s Support Group Annual Anthology Contest
The Insecure Writer’s Support Group holds an annual contest for short stories based on a theme.
There’s no cash prize, but all winning stories are published in their anthology, and you can receive royalties from sales.
Prize: Winning stories will be edited and published, and authors will receive royalties from the anthology.
Guidelines: Submit a short story (between 5,000 and 6,000 words) related to the annual theme.
Deadline: TBD 2022 (the previous year’s deadline was September 1, 2021).
Hektoen Grand Prix Essay Contest
Hektoen International, an online journal dedicated to medical humanities, holds an annual contest for essays related to medicine, with a generous $5,000 cash prize.
Prize: $5,000 for the winner and $2,500 for the runner-up.
Guidelines: Submit a short essay (up to 1,500 words) on any topic so long as it has a relation to medicine. The essay can include art, history, literature, education, and more. Writers must be age 18 or older.
Deadline: TBD 2022 (the previous year’s deadline was September 15, 2021).
Owl Canyon Press Short Story Hackathon
Owl Canyon Press holds an annual “hackathon” for 20-paragraph stories, with a $1,000 prize.
The contest provides the first and last paragraph and the short story writer crafts the rest.
Prize: $1,000 for first place, $750 for second place, and $500 for third place. Publication in a short story anthology for 24 finalists.
Guidelines: Writers are invited to create and submit a short story consisting of 20 paragraphs. The contest provides the 1st and 20th paragraphs, and the short story writer crafts the rest. There is no entry fee for submissions received during the first month of the contest.
Deadline: TBD 2022 (last year’s deadline was September 30, 2020).
Transitions Abroad Expatriate and Work Abroad Writing Contest
The Transitions Abroad Writing Contest is an annual contest for essays related to your experience abroad. If you’ve ever lived and worked abroad, this is a great contest with a $500 cash prize.
- Prize: $500 for first place, $150 for second place, $100 for third place, and $50 for all finalists.
- Guidelines: Submit a practical and inspiring essay or mini-guide (between 1,200 and 5,000 words) that provides in-depth descriptions of your experience moving, living, and working abroad (including any form of work such as teaching English, internships, volunteering, short-term jobs, etc.). The contest is open to writers from any location around the globe.
- Deadline: TBD 2022 (last year’s deadline was October 15, 2020).
How Can I Increase My Chances of Winning?
Each of these contests has different requirements. What works for one probably will not work for another.
But what will increase your chance in every contest is good grammar and a solid structure. This is where ProWritingAid can help.
We may not be able to write your story for you, but we can help you submit your best work.
ProWritingAid’s 25 reports provide personalized, in-depth feedback on everything from grammar and spelling to pacing, word choice, passive voice, and more.
Sign up for a free account to see how ProWritingAid can help you.
Where Can I Find More Writing Contests?
There are many resources for writers that compile lists of writing contests. You should check these regularly, as different writing contests have different submission periods.
Some of my favorite resources include:
With many writers’ sites, you can filter for free contests specifically, and you can also filter by the type of work you want to submit.
I usually check these sites once a season (fall, winter, spring, summer) to compile a list of the contests I want to submit to.
Do you have a favorite writing contest? Let us know in the comments.
FREE WEBINAR: How to Improve Your Chances of Winning the Debut Dagger, Nov 11, 2pm ET / 7pm UK
Have you been thinking about entering your story for the CWA Debut Dagger this year? The deadline isn’t until the end of February but we want to help you prepare.
We’ve invited Dea Parkin, Secretary of the Crime Writers’ Association, and Leigh Russell, Chair of the Debut Dagger judges, to come and share their insider information. Learn what the judges are looking for and how to give your story the best shot at winning.