Writer Resource

Writing Contests – to enter or not?

A question which I have been asking myself for quite some time now and the answer is not an easy one.

On the one hand I understand that winning a contest in addition to a small monetary prize, comes publication. However, publication in Rocco’s School of Writing hardly will have any impact on the grand scheme of my writing career. And on the other, if I win a contest and was published in The New Yorker lets say, then the impact can be fairly robust and well worth the effort, time, and money.

With a simple Google search there are an endless amount of writing contests out there and it is difficult to assess their legitimacy and which contests are worth the entry fees. I am re-posting a few posts that I thought maybe helpful and will list additional resources for CNF writers … because for every 1 nonfiction writing contest there are 5 fiction ones. So hope this is helpful!

Legit or Scam? 

Originally Posted HERE

Bogus Contests

How can you tell a legitimate contest from a bogus one? For some contests it can be quite easy, for others is may require a little investigative work. When deciding which contest to enter, keep these questions in mind.

  •  Is there good disclosure of past winners?
  • Does the supporting organization have a web presence?
  • How many years has the contest been running?
  • Are guidelines clear and posted?
  • Are they requesting too much information?
  • Is the cash prize high enough to justify the entry fee?
  • Is the prize “free representation” or publication?

Many contests are not contests at all, but a veiled attempt to build a prospective customer list. Many of these contests and their accompanying websites offer free representation rather than a prize. Beware of a contest that sends you a letter stating you didn’t win, but that your work is excellent—all you need to do is use their services to improve your writing.

Contest Mills

Contest mills often tout large cash prizes but if you read the small print you may find this phrase; “Prizes are awarded on a pro-rated basis based on the number of entries.” In my early days of writing, I entered and won a contest which gave away prizes based on the number of entries. And no—I never read the fine print. The prize was supposed to be $3,000 and I received $350. For me, it was still a thrill, and I was happy to receive my PayPal credit for $350. If  I had  read the guidelines carefully I would have known that my chance of winning the entire $3,000 was dependent on the number of entries. These types of disclosures are usually not listed in the ad for the contest, but are buried in the fine print of the guidelines.

Anthology Scams

 Some contests promise publication in an anthology. The problem is that the anthology may never be distributed and you may be solicited to purchase other services such as editing, writing help, or publication services. Some anthology scams accept everyone who enters, publish the anthology, and then sell it to the entrants.

Don’t get me wrong, some anthologies are used as fund-raisers for worthy organizations, the contest is real, the judges are independent judges, and the publication is produced, distributed, and sold to the public.

Content Submission Tips for Writing Contest Judge:

Originally Posted HERE

1. The first page speaks volumes.

With almost every entry, I was able to tell the skill of the writer from the first page. I looked at things like: *Where does the writer start the story? Does the opening paragraph immediately draw me in, intrigue me, grip me? Anytime I read an entry that opens with the main character (MC) thinking, sitting and contemplating, going about ordinary life, or waiting, I’m usually not hooked. In most of these instances, the writer needed to cut to the crucial point the MC was thinking about or waiting for. *How does the writer string words together? Are they smooth enough that I forget I’m reading? Or do I trip over awkward sentences that pull me out of the story? And no, I don’t nit-pick for adverbs or dialogue tags. I’m talking about the kind of smoothness that comes from lots of practice (kind of like a piano player who has moved from the clunkiness of first learning a piece to finally having it memorized.) *Is the story conflict evident? Even if the writer opens in an intriguing spot, what does it tell me about the conflict? Does it relate? *Does the writer tell me what’s going on or show me? And how well do they show me? Do they portray only what’s necessary? Or do they add in things that really have no relevance to the story?

2. Writers really do fall into “grades.”

As much as I like to view people as unique individuals and avoid categorizing, I’ve learned that writers really do fall into grades. (Randy Ingermanson came up with the freshman, sophomore, junior, senior idea). While reading contest entries, I could easily spot freshman writers (beginners) and seniors (those who are getting ready for publication). It’s a little harder to distinguish between a sophomore and junior. In the entries I’ve judged, the largest majority fall in the middle (sophomore and junior levels). What that means is those who are learning fiction-writing techniques are moving forward. With a little more effort and writing, they’ll graduate to the next level.

3. We have to learn how to give honest, positive feedback. 

When we’re in critique mode it’s easy to focus on every little thing a fellow writer is doing wrong. And we forget to find the things they’re doing right. I’ve had to LEARN to consciously slow down and be on the lookout for the things I like. They don’t have to be big things. But as I read through entries, I put balloons in the margins. My goal is to put as many positive balloons as negatives.

4. Not all skillfully written stories will make it to publication. 

Unfortunately, even though some entries are very well-written, I realize not all of them will get published. There are just some topics, time periods, and settings that are not as popular among readers. Sometimes publishers aren’t willing to take the chance on them, even if the writer has fantastic story-telling abilities. So while I hope those writers see success with their entries, I also encourage everyone to keep writing. Don’t get stuck on one book. Do the best you can with it. Then move on. Write another book and another. If you’re a senior level writer, eventually you’ll write THE book that will help you break in. And then once you have an established readership, you can always pull out that other book, discuss it with your agent and publisher, and decide if readers are ready to take a chance on it. (I say all this from personal experience.) – See more at: http://jodyhedlund.blogspot.com/2011/03/what-ive-learned-from-judging-writing.html#sthash.3gitpMQY.dpuf

Sample List of Free Writing Contests 

Originally Posted HERE


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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.

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.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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 novelUncle 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.


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

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

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

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.


Winning Writers

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 practises 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.

Additional Resources: 

Pros & Cons of Writing Contests

Why Writers Should Enter Free Writing Contests

Hippocampus Magazine – Creative Nonfiction Literary Magazine

Writing Contests by Genre on Freelance Writing

Writing Contests in the Classifieds on Newspages