How to Navigate Writing Contests

Book Pile

Aside from the cash prize, winning a contest usually means publication in a magazine or newspaper – sometimes even a book publishing contract. Both yield readership, relationships with editors, and exposure.
You might also get that story published, even if it’s not a first place winner.  Contests are a great way to hone your craft and show the world how much better you are than other writers.  Winning a book award for your self-published fiction or nonfiction book is a great way to gain recognition and approval.

Writing contest prizes often are running from $1,000 to $10,000 cash, often paired with an invitation to the prize award presentation ceremony. Recently another prize was a free university MFA program “Creative Writing”. Often there are publishing offers or a free magazine subscription.  Here a s
hort excerpt from our upcoming book:
111 Tips on How to Make Money with Writing
Winning a book award for your self-published fiction or nonfiction book is a great way to gain recognition and approval.  You will not only see an increase in your book sales – provided you market it well.  You also can add the award sticker to your cover and mention the achievement on your back cover, in your books’ description, and in all your marketing and promotions – online or offline.

Examples of Writing Competitions
Two writing contests in the UK call for entries, due in September – one for short stories, one for novels – to attract British, or in the UK published writers.  One is for previously unpublished novels, the other for short stories of well-published authors, prizes range from £5,000 to £30,000.  It is the highest prize award every paid for a short story by the SUNDAY TIMES Short Story Award (up to 6,000 words).  The winner will receive the equivalent of ca. US $38,500.  However, most contest prizes are only around $1,000.
Deadline March 1:  Neutral free contest from New Welsh Review awards a top prize of  £1,000 = US $1,250, e-book publication, and other networking/promotional opportunities for previously unpublished, English-language prose written for an adult audience by authors age 18+.

For 2017, there are two categories: memoirs (5,000-30,000 words) and novellas (8,000-30,000 words).  Both categories are open to all residents of the UK and Ireland, plus those who have been educated in Wales for at least six months; the Novella Prize is also open to writers based in the US and Canada.

Works may be a single, long-form piece or a book divided or structured as the author sees fit.  No simultaneous submissions.  No limit to the number of entries submitted by one author, although only one work may win.  An author may enter both categories. Enter using sponsor’s online submissions portal.


Restless Books Prize for New Immigrant Writing –
The winner receives a US$10,000 advance.

CBC Creative Nonfiction Competition – First Prize CAD6,000

American Library in Paris Visiting Fellowship. Is open to writers worldwide. Fellows receive a stipend of US$5,000 to assist with travel and housing costs.


The James Jones Fellowship Contest awards $10,000 to an American writer with a first fiction novel in progress in 2017. Two runners-up will each receive $1,000.

Chicago Tribune’s Nelson Algren Award
has been held annually since 1981. The award carries a first prize of US$3500 and has four finalist prizes ($1000 each) and five runners-up prizes ($500 each) and there is no entry fee. Stories can be up to 8000 words and must be previously unpublished. The Nelson Algren Award is only open within the United States and entries close on 31 January.

Iowa Review Awards
are open to short fiction of up to 25 pages (double-spaced), as well as poetry and nonfiction. First prize is $1500 and all entries will be considered for publication. The judge of the 2017 fiction category is Amelia Gray. Entries open on 1 January and close on 31 January.

Philosophy Through Fiction Short Story Competition
is open to speculative fiction (including but is not limited to science fiction, fantasy, horror, alternative history, or magical realism) that explores one or more philosophical ideas. These can be implicit; there is no restriction on which philosophical ideas you explore. First prize is US$500 and the winning story will be published.

Yearbook Short Story Competition
offers the winner a place on an Arvon residential writing course of your choice (valued at £1000) and publication on Stories must be under 2000 words and, unlike previous years, can be on any theme. Entrants can be from anywhere in the world and there is no entry fee.

Stella Kupferberg Memorial Short Story Prize
is awarded by Selected Shorts. The winning entry will receive US$1,000 and the work will be performed and recorded live at the Selected Shorts performance at Symphony Space and will be published on The winning writer will also earn free admission to a 10-week course with Gotham Writers Workshop.

There are literally hundreds of writing competitions every year.  Readers of our upcoming book: 111 Tips on How to Make Money with Writing will receive a complementary and comprehensive list of contests in english-speaking countries.

Fee or Free?
Authors can search and apply for a free competition, or one that requires an entry fee. You may wonder “why should I pay to enter a contest?”  Good question.

When a contest is from a reputable publisher such as Writer’s Digest, you can trust they won’t take your money and run.  You have a chance to receive the prize (cash, trip to a writer’s conference and publication of your writing) for your entry.  Even if you don’t win, the experience gives you the opportunity to hone your writing skills.

Where to Find More Writing Contests?

These websites let you know about upcoming writing competitions:


Writer Beware…
Before you click on “accept” when applying, or pay any money: carefully read the small print, and avoid giving your rights away for free.  There are hundreds of options that range from scams to high-level awards and great exposure.  Submission fees are from $10 to $250.  Some entries don’t require fees.  Enter any book award contest only after careful consideration and review of its reputation. Google the awards name.  You sometimes might be surprised what’s coming up.  Watch out for the “small print” examples, shown in these websites, before you apply or pay any fees:

SelfpublishingAdvice listed among others these “Guiding Principles for Writing Contests and Awards”:
“The event exists to recognize talent, not to enrich the organizers.  
Award ceremonies present a lucrative opportunity for unscrupulous organizers and vanity presses.  These companies extract millions of dollars from unwary authors every year through entry fees, merchandising, and ancillary services such as marketing and editing.  The most common method of separating authors from their money is a high entry fee (which they define as $50 and above) multiplied by a high number of categories (10 or more). This system is meant to encourage multiple entries and huge numbers of winners who can each be targeted for promotional products and add-on services.”

Watch out for these unethical rights grab.  Intellectual property is under attack from all fronts and we must be vigilant.  Read the fine print!

How Will You Market Your Award?
Having written or published an “Award Winning Book,” selected from a hundred or more competing titles by an experienced, professional team of judges gives your book the seal of excellence.

Winning the award is one thing, but marketing the fact that your book has been chosen among hundreds of others is equally important.  Have a plan how you can spread the word about your award-winning book, also outside of Social Media:

  • Add it to your email signature. 
  • Post a press release and write a blog post about it. 
  • Create a guest post about your experience, with valuable tips for other writers. 
  • Offer your work to book clubs, mentioning your award. 
  • Do as many book signings as possible, accompanied by a huge poster of your award. 

Most awards call for entries every year, so if the competition is closed for this year, mark your calendar for next years’ contest call.   Entering a writing contest means you will gain experience, and you will get feedback on your writing.  It boosts your self-confidence, which in turn encourages you to write more.  If you don’t win the first contest you enter: remember what Thomas A. Edison said “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

Good luck to all of you who participate in writing contests!


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