31 Free Writing Contests: Legitimate Competitions With Cash Prizes

31 Free Writing Contests: Legitimate Competitions With Cash Prizes

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 .

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 8 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 31 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 contests — and there are certainly enough of them.

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.


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.


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: Contest is every other year, with the last one running in 2016. The 2018 deadline was January 31st.


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 submissions must be postmarked between May 1 through June 30.


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: TBD


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 2017 and May 2019 has not yet been announced.


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 the fall (most recently in August or September). Deadline for submissions for 2018 awards was December 31, 2017. Deadline for 2019 awards TBA.


This boutique publishing firm offers a prize of a publishing contract to its contest winner. Submit a novel of 20,000 words or more in any fiction genre (no fanfic, short stories or poetry).

Inkitt runs contests regularly, so be sure to!

Deadline: See individual contest pages.


Residencies aren’t just for published authors. Lake Forest College and &NOW Books offers a three-week residency to emerging, unpublished poets and fiction writers under the age of 40. The winner will receive housing and campus meals, $10,000 and publication of their manuscript. They are expected to participate in the Lake Forest Literary Festival and give presentations.

Deadline: Annually; 2018 has passed and 2019 deadline is not yet announced.


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 between May 1 and September 30 each year.


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; 2018 deadline has not yet been announced.


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.


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 four 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.


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 2016 are eligible for the 2017 award).

Deadline: Annual submission window is September 1 through December 31.


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 2018 deadline has not yet been announced.


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.

Don’t be taken in by scammy writing contests. Here are some fee-free options for your prose and poetry.

16. Friends of American Writers Chicago Awards

FAW presents two annual awards: an for literary fiction or nonfiction, and a 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; 2017 deadline has not yet been announced.


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; 2018 has passed and 2019 deadline is not yet announced.


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; 2018 has passed and 2019 deadline is not yet announced.


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 2018 awards has passed; the deadline for 2019 awards has not yet been announced.


Want to change the world? Then listen up.

FutureScapes is looking for concrete, substantive pieces that “can provide a roadmap for cities, states, and nations to follow.” If you just want to write the next Hunger Games, this isn’t the contest for you, but if you’re inspired by politics and civic issues, you’ve found the right place. (Case in point: the inaugural theme, “,” features a quote from Alexis de Tocqueville.) First place wins $2,000; second place $1,000; and four runners-up will get $500 each. Oh, and did we mention publication in an anthology that will be “distributed to mayors, governors and members of the U.S. Congress”?

Deadline: Annually; deadline for 2018 is TBD.


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: Annually; deadline for 2018 awards has passed, and the deadline for 2019 has not yet been announced.


Creative nonfiction essays of no more than 5,000 words on any subject, are eligible for consideration for this award, whose winner receives $250 and publication in Lunch Ticket, the literary and art journal produced by the MFA community of Antioch University Los Angeles.

Works must not have been published elsewhere. Award winners are required to submit a 100-word biography, recent photo and a short note thanking the Woods family for their generosity and support.

Deadlines: Biannual reading periods are the month of February for the Summer/Fall issue and the month of August for the Winter/Spring issue.


This contest 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 and you could win $350 — a spot in a future art book showcasing these collaborations. Short stories should be between 2,000 – 5,000 words.

Deadline: Annually; 2018 has passed and 2019 deadline is not yet announced.


For young writers ages 13-18, this cool contest also serves as a mini writer’s camp. Recognizing that “a first draft is never perfect,” submissions actually receive peer review by authors, writing teachers and other experts and writers are given the chance to revise their pieces based on this feedback before submitting them for final prize consideration. There’s a $100 prize for the winner and $50 for the runner-up ( $50 for the best peer-reviewer). All three are featured on Write the World’s blog alongside comments from a guest judge. And since each month’s prompt is from a different genre, developing writers get a chance to test out different styles.

Deadline: Monthly.


Stuck with writer’s block and looking for a way to jumpstart your escape? Prose offers weekly challenges meant to spark your creativity; many are just for fun, but look for the weekly numbered challenges (rather than community members or sponsors) for a chance to win money.

Prizes are typically between $100 – $200 and word counts are low — some as low as under 150, some as high as 500, but all say “quality beats quantity.” So even if all you get from the prompt is a chance to flex your brain, it’s not a bad deal.

Deadline: Weekly.

Poetry contests

Curious about opportunities for poets? Your stanzas — rhyming or not — could be worth a fair amount of money in these competitions.


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.


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.

28. African Poetry Book Fund Prizes

The APBF awards three prizes annually for African Poetry. The  gives $5,000 for a book of original African poetry published in the prior year.

The  gives $1,000 and a publication contract for an unpublished book-length collection of poetry by an African author.

The  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.


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 July of the previous year and June 30 of the current year are eligible for the following year’s prize (i.e. award for 2018 was for works publishing between between July 1, 2016 and June 30, 2017). Deadline for 2018 awards has passed, their next deadline is July 1, 2018 (for book published between July 1, 2017 and June 30, 2018).


First-generation immigrants have a chance to win $10,000 and publication by Restless Books for telling their stories (real or imagined). The contest alternates annually between fiction (novel or short story collection) and nonfiction (memoir, essay collection, narrative nonfiction). In 2018, it will go to a work of fiction of at least 45,000 words; 2019 will be nonfiction.

Deadline: Annually; 2018 has passed and 2019 deadline is not yet 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.


(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: Annually; May 4, 2018.  

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, including the Wergle Flomp Humor Poetry Contest (which sounds delightful).

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.

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.

Are you planning to enter any writing contests this year? Which ones?

This post contains affiliate links. That means if you purchase through our links, you’re supporting The Write Life — and we thank you for that!

This post originally ran in February 2016. We updated it in April 2018.

Filed Under: Craft

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  • AO says:

    Thank you for the list, it will surely prove useful. I do want to voice a concern, for whatever worth it may be: there are several contests limited to who may submit, based on race and gender, and while I understand this limitation to some degree, I also think it a bit silly with how progressive we attempt to be as a global community. I don’t have to be of one sex or a specific race to write about any one thing or another, even the opposite sex or a race other than my own. I’ve found the best realization to date, in that it doesn’t matter who says a particular thing, it matters what particular thing was said. A good thinker is a good thinker regardless of the boxes that line the form that are often optional (i.e., race, sex, religion, etc.), and a good thinker who can write well and is worth reading is far more exceptional. For what it’s worth.

  • armida says:

    Thank you so much for this info’s Ms. Kelly 🙂 so helpful.
    I’m planning to write a story with a genre of fantasy and romance. I’m an amateur and has no experience of publishing any of my works (since I’m a Filipina, so my works are Tagalog). Can you recommend some site for this?

  • Paula says:

    Thanks for the brilliant list! Unfortunately, as a permanent resident in Canada, I cannot participate in most of these competitions 🙁
    Would you happen to know any trustworthy (if possible free) Canadian based competitions?
    Many thanks in advance!
    Paula x

  • Eugenia Rodgers says:

    Thank you for the work you have done to compile this list of competitions for us. Just about all of these are for boosk already written or short stories. Are there any competitions for essay writing? Currently I am involved in Creative writing through Family & Community Education formally named Home Demonstration Club. The only money involved is an annual membership fee of $10.00. I look forward to your response.
    Eugenia Rodgers

  • Thanks for sharing this with us keep post….

  • pamela says:

    Thanks for sharing this article I will have to follow the rules they outline If i was invited you to participate.

  • Hello! I was really interested in the L. Ron Hubbard Writer of the Future Contest. The entry dates were Jan 1st, April 1st, July 1st, and October 1st. Are these all annual? Like they do it once a year on all these dates? Thanks for the great list ma’am. My name is Jessie, and I’m fourteen. 🙂

  • Arthur says:

    My daughter Ann really writes good articles.We are Kenyans can she participate?

  • Arete says:

    Does anyone know if ex pats can apply to these as well?

  • wow!! Finally I can try making something out of writing. Thanks mate

  • susan says:

    so kind of you to share thank you! Will investigate whether open to non US residents ..

  • Michelle R. DeLaBarre says:

    Can I add our tiny contest to your list?

    Here’s the information:


    Write a personal essay up to 750 words that shares a TRUE story about how Love and Compassion helped solve a work or business problem. First Prize: $100, Second Prize $75, and Third Prize $50. Deadline for submissions is July 30, 2016.

    Thank you so much for your valuable list!

    Michelle R. DeLaBarre
    The Art of Love is Good Business Blog

  • Indianerotica says:

    Hey… We have an exciting contest for erotica writers.

    Work must be original and unpublished.. Be original. This is a celebration of sexuality and eroticism.

    We are publishing a book of erotic stories. This is the first of its kind project for Asian Market , something that will titillate their erotic souls. More than 20 submissions will be chosen from this contest. This contest is open to men and women. You can state whether or not you would like credit for the work you submit or if you’d like to submit as “Anonymous”.

    These stories should stir emotions in people that allow their minds to think outside the realm of their reality. Think about the last time you were turned on the last time you turned someone on. It can be clean or dirty. Put your best work forward. This is truly going to be a great publicized project and a great opportunity to have your work published.

    Please send a your stories to indianetor[email protected]


    Erotica Story – Max word limit 10000- 15000 words.
    Poems – Poems should be no more than 1500 words

    Genre /Topic – Erotic, Steamy Sex, Couple Fantasies, Slave Sex, BDSM, Lesbian sex, Sexual Fantasies, Teenage Romance, First time sex, Wives Fantasies, Partner Swapping, Oral Sex, Fiction Stories from History around Sex, Orgies, Threesomes, Female Desires, Arousal, Oral Sex, Craving for Sex, Turn on the desire.

    You will also receive a copy of the e book at the time of the book release.

    If your submission is accepted you are authorizing us to exclusively publish your work in any media form. We will be sending you a contract for the same in case we shortlist your entries for the contest. We reserve the right to reject any submissions; we reserve the right to publish the written works in various volumes of this project. We will give credit to the writer/author for all works received at the bottom of each story/poem.

  • Alex Munsell says:

    Hi Kelly,

    Awesome list. I just wanted to let you know of another contest.

    It’s called “Maine’s Dream Restaurant Contest” – the prize is ownership of a fully functioning restaurant in Lewiston, Maine (Fuel Restaurant), the commercial condo it resides in, a private condo for the winner to own and live in, and $20,000 operating expenses.

    The deadline for online entries is October 17th, 2016. More details can be found at the following URL:

    Is there any way this contest could either be added to this list, or another comparable one?

    If you need any additional details I’d be more than happy to help via email.

    Thank you!

  • unanimous says:

    I love this list! As a twelve-year old who likes to do everything from writing a novel that rivals the Lord of the Rings to fencing, a little extra money can go a long way, and this way I can get it while doing something I love!

  • Emma says:

    I am 13 years of age and I was wondering if I could write adult fiction in that age or do I have to be 18+?

  • MOH says:

    Sisters,brothers,it is time to pick up our pens and write again.

  • Hi Write Life Readers! Young Writers of science fiction/fantasy short stories are encouraged to enter our annual short story contest! We are an awesome New England Sci-Fi/Fantasy Convention located in Boston, MA. Submissions are free from students age 13-18 (no college students, please) who live in the New England area. Winners receive free membership to our convention (Jan 13-16, 2017), and we also give cash prizes.

  • Stephen Chima says:

    This is quite interesting because it allows for a rise in the interest of young writers to take the bull by the horn and affect our world by writing

  • Joanna says:

    Can you help me? I have been told my poems are amasing by so many and I should publish and show the world. My problem is TRUST. I have already had my work stolen and published long time ago and just find it so very hard to let them go, other then family and friends I have made for gifts and such. I would like to show my stuff to strangers that understand what poetry is about and see what another view thinks. Im my own worst critic and sometimes I wonder if what they say is just because they dont want to hurt me or anything like that.

  • Debe Dockins says:

    This is a great list. Thanks for all your hard work in compiling it. I’d like to add that every two years humorous and human interest stories are accepted for the Erma Bombeck Writing Competition sponsored by Washington-Centerville Public Library. The entry fee is $15 and there are four prizes of $500 awarded each a free registration (value of $425) to the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop at the University of Dayton. There are two local winners and two global winners. The next contest will open in December 2017. To see more information, go here: .

  • I am so sorry. I gave you an incorrect Twitter handle. This is the correct one. @PeachesCompany

    Again sorry

  • Atiya says:

    Thanks for such great informations

  • JOSE T.R says:


  • JOSE T.R says: