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Fourth Genre Essay Contest For High School

There are some unique skills that are harder than others to capture on the college application. Students who excel at sports will often have a long list of tangible achievements. Students who produce fine arts or participate in student leadership programs will easily find ways to highlight their participation in these extracurriculars on college applications. But writers will often have a harder time highlighting the skills, time, and energy put into perfecting the craft of writing. If you are a student who excels at writing, how can you draw attention to your abilities and dedication on your college application? Are high grades in the humanities and a well-written essay enough? How can you show that this skill is something you pursue as an extracurricular activity outside of regular school hours?

Whether you’re a writer, an aspiring writer, or have totally different extracurricular interests, CollegeVine’s mentorship program can help you strengthen your extracurricular profile. 

Writing contests are a great way to highlight your dedication to and success in writing.

Winning a writing contest does much more than simply look good on your college application. Many serious writing contests at the high school level offer prizes. Some are cash awards, and others come in the form of a scholarship, often to a summer writing program. Winning a writing contest can also help you to form and nurture a lasting relationship with the institute that hosts the contest. Additionally, numerous writing contests offer multiple levels of recognition, so you do not have to be the top winner to earn a title that will look good on your college application.

Although winning a writing contest is not easy, it can be the perfect way to show that you’re serious about your craft. Below are sixteen distinguished writing contests across all genres, open to high school students. Read on to learn about eligibility, prizes, submissions deadlines, and more!

1. The Atlantic & College Board Writing Prize

About: Hosted by the College Board in collaboration with the publication The Atlantic, the focus of this annual contest changes each year “to align with the introduction of a newly redesigned AP course and exam.”

Prizes: One grand prize winner receives $5,000 and has their winning submission printed in the September issue of The Atlantic. Two finalists also receive $2,500 each.

Who is Eligible: Students 16-19 years of age

Important Dates: January: Annual essay topic released. February 28: Submission deadline. May: Winners announced.

Genre of Writing: Essay, topics vary by year

Level of Competition:Most Competitive

Full Rules Available Here

2.National Council of Teachers of English Achievement Awards

About: Hosted annually by the National Council of Teachers of English, these awards seek to “encourage high school students in their writing and to publicly recognize some of the best student writers.”

Prizes: Students judged as having superior writing skills receive a certificate and a letter. Their names also appear on the NCTE website. In 2016, 533 high school juniors were nominated, and of them, 264 received Certificates for Superior Writing. 

Who is Eligible: High school juniors who are nominated by their school’s English department. The number of nominees allowed from each school depends on their enrollment.

Important Dates: October: Writing theme released. November to Mid-February: Entries accepted. May: Winners announced.

Genre of Writing: Students submit one themed essay based on a given prompt, and one choice piece from any genre displaying their “best work”.

Level of Competition: Very Competitive

Full Rules Available Here

3.National Scholastic Art and Writing Awards

About: This contest begins regionally and progresses to the national level. Local organizations host regional competitions and winners from these are sent on for national consideration. This is a huge contest and it received nearly 320,000 entries in 29 categories across writing and the arts in 2016. Of those entries, 85,000 were recognized at the regional level and 2,500 received national medals. There is a submission fee of $5 per entry, or $20 per portfolio, but this can be waived for students who apply and meet the standards for financial assistance.

Prizes: At the regional level, students win Honorable Mentions, Silver or Gold Keys, or Nominations for the American Visions and Voices Medals. Regional Gold Key winners are then evaluated for national honors that include Gold and Silver Medals or the American Visions and Voices Medal, which serves as a “Best in Show” award for each region. National award winners are invited to a National Ceremony and celebration at Carnegie Hall in New York City. There are several sponsored cash awards at the national level, ranging by genre and sponsor, and some National Medal winners will be selected for scholarships to colleges or summer programs as well.

Who is Eligible: All U.S. students in grades 7-12.

Important Dates: Regional deadlines vary; search for yours here. National winners are announced in the spring and the National Ceremony is held in June each year.

Genre of Writing: Critical Essay, Dramatic Script, Flash Fiction, Humor, Journalism, Novel Writing, Personal Essay & Memoir, Poetry, Science Fiction & Fantasy, Short Story, Writing Portfolio (graduating seniors only)

Level of Competition: Regionally: Somewhat Competitive Nationally: Very Competitive

Full Rules Available Here

4. Letters About Literature

About: This is a reading and writing contest sponsored by the Center for the Book in the Library of Congress. It invites students to write a letter to the author (living or dead) of a book, poem, or speech that has affected them personally. Letters are judged at state and national levels.

Prizes: The National Winner at each level receives a $1,000 cash award. Two National Honor Winners at each level receive a $200 cash award.

Who is Eligible: Students in grades 4-12. (Grades 4-6 are in Level 1, Grades 7-8 are in Level 2, and Grades 9-12 are in Level 3.)

Important Dates: Submission deadline is Dec. 2, 2016 for Level 3, and Jan. 9, 2017 for Levels 1 and 2.

Genre of Writing: Letters, written to a prompt.

Level of Competition: Most Competitive

Full Rules Available Here

5.Princeton University Contests

About: Princeton University hosts two contests for high school juniors. One is a poetry contest judged by members of the Princeton University Creative Writing faculty. The other is a Ten-Minute Play Contest judged by members of the Princeton University Program in Theater faculty. They offer no information about how many entrants they receive each year, but in the past 20 years, at least five winners have gone on to become Princeton students.

Prizes: Each contest has a first place prize of $500, second place prize of $250, and third place prize of $100.

Who is Eligible: High school juniors

Important Dates: The Poetry Contest is accepting submissions now through November 27, 2016. The Ten-Minute Play Contest will publish new application materials this fall; submissions for the 2016 contest closed in March.

Genre of Writing: Poetry and Playwriting

Level of Competition: Competitive

Full Rules Available Here

6. Ocean Awareness Student Contest

About: A relatively new competition, the Bow Seat Ocean Awareness Program and the Ocean Awareness Contest was founded in 2011 with a mission to “inspire the next generation of ocean caretakers through education and engagement with the arts, science, and advocacy.” It challenges entrants to think creatively about human impact on our oceans and coastal environment. An interdisciplinary contest, it welcomes art, poetry, prose, and film entries. Though it is only five years old, it is rapidly growing. It received over 2,100 entrants in 2015 and has already awarded more than $100,000 in scholarships. The theme changes each year, but it always relates to the connection between humans and the ocean.

Prizes: The contest is divided into high school and middle school levels, and there are 26 cash awards available for writing in each age group, ranging from $100 to $1,500.

Who is Eligible: Individuals or groups in grades 6-12

Important Dates: The 2017 contest opened on Sept. 15, 2016 and entries must be received by June 19, 2017. Winners are announced in January 2018.

Genre of Writing: Poetry or prose and an accompanying reflection piece.

Level of Competition: Somewhat Competitive

Full Rules Available Here

7. The Bennington Young Writers Awards

About: Bennington College boasts among its alumna seven Pulitzer Prize winners, three US poet laureates, and countless New York Times bestsellers. Judges for its young writers’ contest include faculty and students from Bennington College. In 2015, it received more than 2,300 submissions. 

Prizes: First place winners in each category receive $500; second place winners receive $250

Who is Eligible: Students in grades 10-12

Important Dates: Submissions accepted September 1 – November 1 each year. Winners announced after April 15.

Genre of Writing: Poetry, Fiction, and Nonfiction (personal or academic essay), fewer than 1500 words

Level of Competition: Somewhat Competitive

Full Rules Available Here

8. The New Voices One-Act Competition for Young Playwrights

About: The New Voices One-Act Competition for Young Playwrights is hosted by YouthPLAYS, an organization that publishes plays and musicals for performance by schools and theaters for young audiences. The contest, founded in 2010, is designed to encourage young writers to create new pieces for the stage. There are also similar contests run at the regional and local level under the same “New Voice Playwrights” title, though rules, eligibility and prizes vary.

Prizes: The winner receives $200 in addition to representation of their play through YouthPLAYS publishing. The runner-up receives $50.

Who is Eligible: Authors 19 years old or younger

Important Dates: Submission deadline is typically in May of each year, and winners are announced in the fall.

Genre of Writing: 10-40 minutesingle act plays suitable for school productions

Level of Competition: Somewhat Competitive

Full Rules Available Here

9. YoungArts

About: The National YoungArts Foundation was founded in 1981 with a mission to identify and support the next generation of artists in the visual, design, literary, and performing arts.Thousands of students apply each year and winners attend weeklong programs offered in Los Angeles, New York, and Miami. At these programs, students participate in workshops with master artists. It is also the only path to nomination for the U.S. Presidential Scholars in the Arts. There is a $35 application fee, but fee waivers are available for students who qualify.

Prizes: Regional Honorable Mentions are invited to participate in regional workshops. Finalists are invitedto participate in National YoungArts week where they have the opportunity to meet with the panel of judges and can win cash prizes up to $10,000. Finalists are also eligible for a U.S. Presidential Scholar in the Arts nomination.

Who is Eligible: Students in grades 10-12 or ages 15-18, U.S. citizens or permanent residents only.

Important Dates: Submissions are due by mid-October for the following year’s programs.

Genre of Writing: Creative nonfiction, novel, play or script, poetry, short story, or spoken word

Level of Competition: Most Competitive

Full Rules Available Here

10. The Patricia Grodd Poetry Prize for Young Writers

About: The Kenyon Review literary magazine of Kenyon College sponsors this writing contest aimed at encouraging and recognizing outstanding young poets. Last year, its eleventh year of competition, the contest received nearly 1000 entries.

Prizes: First place winner receives a full scholarship to the weeklong Kenyon Review summer program. Two runners-up receive partial scholarships. All three award-winning pieces are published in The Kenyon Review.

Who is Eligible: Students in grades 10-11

Important Dates: Submissions are open Nov 1- Nov 30 and winners are announced in February. 

Genre of Writing: Poetry

Level of Competition: Somewhat Competitive

Full Rules Available Here

11. The Claremont Review Writing Contest

About: The Claremont Review is an international magazine for young writers. It publishes poetry, short stories, short plays, graphic art, and photography twice annually in issues released in the spring and fall. Based in Canada, The Claremont Review was founded in 1992 by a group of editors who saw a need to “provide young adult artists with a legitimate venue to display their work.” Their contest is hosted annually, and there is a $20 USD fee for entries from outside Canada, and $20 CAD for entries inside Canada.

Prizes: Cash prizes between $400 CAD and $1,000 CAD are awarded in poetry, fiction, and visual arts categories. All winners and honorable mentions are published in the fall issue of the magazine.

Who is Eligible: Young adults aged 13-19 may submit previously unpublished work written in English.

Important Dates: Submissions must be postmarked by mid-March each year. Winners are announced in May

Genre of Writing: Poetry and fiction

Level of Competition: Competitive

Full Rules Available Here

12. Richard G. Zimmerman Scholarship

About: Slightly different in structure, this award is a scholarship rather than a traditional writing contest. It was endowed by Richard G. Zimmerman, a member of the National Press Club who died in 2008. One annual scholarship is awarded to a high school senior who intends to pursue a career in journalism. Applicants must submit three samples of journalistic work along with three letters of recommendation, a high school transcript, a signed copy of the financial aid form (FAFSA), and a letter of acceptance to college or documentation of where you have applied.

Prizes: One-time $5,000 scholarship

Who is Eligible: High school seniors who seek to pursue a career in journalism

Important Dates: Applications must be postmarked by March 1 each year.

Genre of Writing: Journalism

Level of Competition: Very Competitive

Full Rules Available Here

13. Signet Classics Student Scholarship Essay Contest

About: Signet Classics, an imprint of Penguin Books, has hosted this high school essay contest annually for 21 years. Essays must be submitted by an English teacher on behalf of his or her student, and must respond to one of five prompts on the annually selected text. The 2017 text is The Tempest.

Prizes: Five cash prizes of $1,000 each are awarded to winners, with each winner’s school library also receiving a Signet Classics Library. 

Who is Eligible: High school juniors and seniors in the fifty United States and the District of Columbia.

Important Dates: Entries for the 2017 contest must be postmarked by April 14, 2017. Winners will be announced at the end of June.

Genre of Writing: Academic essay

Level of Competition: Very Competitive

Full Rules Available Here

14. National High School Essay Contest by the United States Institute of Peace

About: The United States Institute of Peace (USIP) partners with the American Foreign Service Association (AFSA) to host this annual contest aimed to engage “high school students in learning and writing about issues of peace and conflict, encouraging appreciation for diplomacy’s role in building partnerships that can advance peacebuilding and protect national security.” The 2017 theme asks students to put themselves in the place of U.S. diplomats addressing the refugee crisis in one of four countries: Turkey, Iraq, Kenya, or Afghanistan. Students should consult the contest Companion Guide to help shape their answers and must also submit a list of references used.

Prizes: One winner receives a $2,500 cash award, an all-expense paid trip to Washington, D.C. to meet the Secretary of State, and a full scholarship for one semester aboard the Semester at Sea Program upon enrollment at an accredited university. One runner-up receives a cash prize of $1,250 and a full scholarship to participate in the International Diplomacy Program of the National Student Leadership Conference.

Who is Eligible: “Students whose parents are not in the Foreign Service are eligible to participate if they are in grades nine through twelve in any of the fifty states, the District of Columbia, the U.S. territories, or if they are U.S. citizens attending high school overseas. Students may be attending a public, private, or parochial school. Entries from home-schooled students are also accepted.”

Important Dates: Entries must be submitted by March 15, 2017. Winners are announced in July.

Genre of Writing: Letter, written to address a prompt.

Level of Competition: VeryCompetitive

Full Rules Available Here

15. We the Students Essay Contest by Bill of Rights Institute

About: Sponsored by the Bill of Rights Institute, this essay contest challenges students to think critically and creatively about the rights of the people and how they impact the greater society. The 2017 prompt asks students to specifically consider civil disobedience and think critically about whether peaceful resistance to laws positively or negatively impacts a free society. Students are encouraged to use specific examples and current events to back up their thinking.

Prizes: One grand prize winner receives $5,000 and a scholarship to Constitutional Academy. Six runners-up receive $1,250 each, and eight honorable mentions receive $500 each.

Who is Eligible: U.S. citizens or legal residents between the ages of 14-19, attending school in the fifty United States, the District of Columbia, U.S. territories, or American Armed Forces schools abroad.

Important Dates: Submissions must be completed by February 5, 2017. Winners are announced in April.

Genre of Writing: Essay

Level of Competition: Very Competitive.

Full Rules Available Here

16. Profile in Courage Essay Contest by JFK Presidential Library

About: Hosted annually, the Profile in Courage Essay Contest will be marking the 100th anniversary of John F. Kennedy’s birth in 2017, and is doubling prizes to celebrate. This contest is inspired by JFK’s book, Profiles in Courage, which recounted the stories of eight U.S. senators who displayed political courage in standing up for a greater good and risking their careers by doing so. The contest asks entrants to describe and analyze an act of political courage in the form of a similar profile. 

Prizes: First place prize of $20,000. Twenty-five smaller cash awards ranging from $100 to $1,000.

Who is Eligible: “The contest is open to United States high school students in grades nine through twelve attending public, private, parochial, or home schools; U.S. students under the age of twenty enrolled in a high school correspondence/GED program in any of the fifty states, the District of Columbia, or the U.S. territories; and U.S. citizens attending schools overseas.”

Important Dates: The 2017 contest deadline is January 4, 2017.

Genre of Writing: Essay

Level of Competition: Most Competitive

Full Rules Available Here

Writing in all genres is an art form. Students who are passionate about it will find that writing contests provide them with a platform for highlighting their skills, receiving recognition at the local, regional and national levels, and even receiving valuable cash prizes or scholarships. Not to mention writing awards look great on your college application and draw attention to a sometimes overlooked art form.

If you are interested in pursuing writing in college and want to learn more about specific college and university writing programs, CollegeVine’s Mentorship Program helps students strengthen their extracurricular profiles with customized guidance. Learn more about our Mentorship Program here.

Kate Sundquist

Senior Blogger at CollegeVine

Kate Koch-Sundquist is a graduate of Pomona College where she studied sociology, psychology, and writing before going on to receive an M.Ed. from Lesley University. After a few forays into living abroad and afloat (sometimes at the same time), she now makes her home north of Boston where she works as a content writer and, with her husband, raises two young sons who both inspire her and challenge her on a daily basis.

Latest posts by Kate Sundquist (see all)

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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 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.

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: Contest is every other year, with the last one running in 2016. The 2018 deadline has not been announced.

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: TBD

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 2015 and May 2017 is May 15, 2017.

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 the fall (most recently in August or September). 2017 deadline not yet announced.

7.Inkitt

This boutique publishing firm offers a full-fledged publishing deal to its contest winner. Submit a novel of 20,000 words or more in any fiction genre (no fanfic, short stories or poetry) and if it’s selected, Inkitt will provide you with professional editing, a cover design, and 25 percent royalties. They also have a strategy to get you into the Amazon Top 100. (Not too shabby.)

Inkitt runs contests regularly, so be sure to check back often!

Deadline: See individual contest pages.

8.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; 2017 deadline has not yet been announced.

9. 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.

10. 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; 2017 deadline has not yet been announced.

11. 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.

12. 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 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.

13. 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 2016 are eligible for the 2017 award).

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

14. 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 2017 deadline has not yet been announced.

15. 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.

16. 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; 2017 deadline has not yet been announced.

17. 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; 2017 has passed and 2018 deadline is not yet announced.

18. 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; 2017 has passed and 2018 deadline is not yet announced.

19. 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 2017 awards has passed; the deadline for 2018 awards has not yet been announced.

20. FutureScapes Writing Contest

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, “Empowerment Cities,” 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 2017 is TBD.

21. 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 2017 awards has passed, and the deadline for 2019 have not yet been announced.

22. The Diana Woods Memorial Award in Creative Non-Fiction

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.

23. Words & Brushes

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 — plus a spot in a future art book showcasing these collaborations. Short stories should be between 2,000 – 5,000 words.

Deadline: Annually; 2017 has passed and 2018 deadline is not yet announced.

24. Write the World

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 (plus $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.

25. Prose.

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 posted by Prose (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.

26. 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.

27. 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.

28. 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.

29. 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 July of the previous year and June 30 of the current year are eligible for the following year’s prize (i.e. award for 2017 was for works publishing between between July 1, 2015 and June 30, 2016). Deadline for 2018 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.

30. 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 for books published the previous year.

31. 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: Annually; May 5, 2017.  

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.

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.

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

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This post originally ran in February 2016. We updated it in March 2017.

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