Essay Contests Uk

15 Best Writing Competitions That You Can Enter and Win

If you’ve been looking for writing competitions, then you’ve probably come across several giant lists of contests, prizes and awards, with very little to help you tell any of them apart.

Sound familiar? It should: writers on our courses are constantly asking us which competitions we’d recommend they enter.

Well, luckily, a number of these contests do actually stand out from the rest due to the rewards, prestige and opportunities that they present for the winners:

So read on, as we bring you the curated list of the very best writing competitions you can enter, and the prizes you could scoop up if you do…


Writing Competition Deadlines

The 15 competitions below are the ones we’ve picked out as the year’s best – but there are far more writing contests taking place month to month than we could hope to list here.

You can though, sign up for Writers’ Academy updates and have upcoming competition deadlines dropped into your inbox every month, along with links to enter:


That way, you never have to miss out on a writing contest again, big or small!

And now, the cream of the crop…


Costa Short Story Award

Probably the biggest competition on this list purely in terms of the amount of exposure that awaits any winner…

An offshoot of the massively popular Costa Book Awards, the coffee giants introduced the Short Story Award in 2012, allowing unpublished writers to get in on the act.

The lack of an entry fee, a sizable cash prize and the publicity that Costa can bring makes this an obvious starting point for any award-chasing author.

Entry Fee: Free     Word Count: 4000 word limit     Prize: £3000

Wilbur Smith Adventure Writing Prize

Feeling adventurous?

Brought to you by famed South African novelist Wilbur Smith’s charitable foundation, this prize seeks to find the best unpublished adventure manuscript of the year.

At 50,000 words, this is not a competition to complete in your spare time, but instead a fantastic chance for aspiring adventure writers to spread their unpublished novel.

The unique prize involved is sure to appeal to adventure lovers too: a large grant to fund travel and research for your next novel!

Entry Fee: Free     Word Count: 50,000 word minimum     Prize: £15000 

Commonwealth Short Story Prize

If you’re a Commonwealth citizen, you’ll want to take advantage of the free entry to this prestigious short story competition…

The Commonwealth Writers initiative offers a substantial prize fund to the writer of the best piece of unpublished short fiction by a commonwealth writer.

Regional winners are awarded a nice £2500 sum too, so there’s still a tasty incentive if you don’t win the overall prize.

Entry Fee: Free     Word Count: 2000 – 5000 words     Prize: £5000

American Short(er) Fiction Contest

As the name suggests, this competition will appeal to those writers who like to keep it brief…

The Short(er) Fiction award from American Short Fiction promises its winner publication in a future issue of their national magazine, along with the usual cash bonus.

The combination of financial incentive, publicity and a very modest word count has competitive short story writers everywhere flocking to submit entries!

Entry Fee: $17     Word Count: 1000 limit     Prize: $1000 and publication

CDS Documentary Essay Prize in Writing

If fiction writing isn’t your thing, you’ll want to know about this competition from Duke University:

Their Center for Documentary Studies Essay Prize honours the best piece of literary non-fiction (in alternating years from its prize for documentary photography).

As well as receiving a handsome cash sum, winners will also be featured in one of the CDS’ digital publications, and their work will take pride of place in the university’s Archive of Documentary Arts.

Entry Fee: $40    Word Count: 4000 – 6000 words      Prize: $3000 and publication

Reader’s Digest 100-Word-Story Competition

Being paid £20 a word is an arrangement most writers would be more than pleased with…

Before you rush off to submit a 300,000 word manuscript though, note that this fantastic little competition is strictly limited to entries of exactly 100 words – no more, no less!

This unique challenge from Reader’s Digest is for UK and Irish residents only –  but if that happens to be you, get involved in this fun and rewarding competition.

Entry Fee: Free     Word Count: Exactly 100     Prize: £2000

Gotham Writers Past-Year Memoir Contest

If you thought 100 words was short, how about 16?

This memoir writing contest from Gotham Writers invites you to tell a story from the last year of your life within this tiny little word limit, in the hope of finding the most captivating entry.

Really, there’s no reason not to give this one a go – let’s face it, it’s a fun exercise whether you win or not!

Entry Fee: Free    Word Count: 16 word limit     Prize: Writing course entry

Wergle Flomp Humor Poetry Contest

If you consider yourself both a comedian and a poet, then Winning Writers have got just the contest for you:

The memorably-named Wergle Flomp Humor Poetry Contest seeks the best humor poems of today, with no restrictions on age or country and a very accommodating line limit.

As well as first and second prizes, there’s also $100 in it for 10 honourable mentions – so plenty of chances to have your humor recognised and rewarded!

Entry Fee: Free     Word Count: 250 line limit     Prize: $1000

ABR Elizabeth Jolley Short Story Prize

Fancy being published in a gigantic nation’s leading arts and literary review, and taking home an impressive cash sum to boot?

The Australian Book Review’s short story prize is open to anyone too, provided their submission is written in English – so no excuses even if you don’t live down under!

There is a modest $25 fee for entry, though it should be pointed out that the second and third place prize funds ($2000 and $1000, respectively) are more than many writing competitions will offer to winners.

Entry Fee: $25     Word Count: 2000 – 5000 words     Prize: $7000 and publication

National Flash Fiction Youth Competition

Youth writing competitions are a great way for young writers to cut their teeth in the publishing game:

Given that, the National Flash Fiction Youth Competition from the University of Chester is a great option for UK-based students – with winners having their work published in Flash: The International Short-Short Story Magazine.

The prizes may be smaller for his age group, but the chance to have your work recognised by a prestigious institution at such a tender age is one that no junior writer should pass up!

Entry Fee: Free     Word Count: 360 word limit     Prize: £100

Keats-Shelley Prize

Those with an interest in the Romantics will want to get involved in these dual essay and poetry competitions from the Keats-Shelley Memorial Association.

The winner of each will enjoy a £3000 reward, but all shortlisted candidates will still see their work published either online or in print…

…and as an added sweetener, you’ll get to attend a swanky awards ceremony at London’s Royal Festival Hall, if you weren’t already convinced.

Entry Fee: Free     Word Count: 3000 word/30 line limit     Prize: £3000 and publication

The White Review Short Story Prize

Now expanded to include a US and Canada counterpart to the usual UK & Ireland contest, The White Review’s Short Story Prize really is a great one:

Open to all genres, with no restrictions on theme or subject, the emphasis here is on rewarding “ambitious, imaginative and innovative approaches to creative writing”.

Aside from the prize fund, if shortlisted you’ll also receive feedback from editors of The White Review – an invaluable experience for any emerging writer.

Entry Fee: £15    Word Count: 2000 – 7000 words     Prize: £2500 or $3000

Bristol Short Story Prize

Don’t let the name fool you, the Bristol Short Story Prize is open to all writers – UK based or non-UK based, published or unpublished.

20 submissions in total (the top 3 and a remaining 17 shortlisted entries) will receive prizes and be published in an anthology – so you’ve got a great chance at some recognition with this one.

Take a look here to see the form that your published work could take.

Entry Fee: £8     Word Count: 4000 word limit     Prize: £1000

Mslexia Women’s Short Fiction Competition

Quarterly magazine Mslexia is all about helping women writers progress and succeed, and their annual writing competitions are a big part of that.

New to the line-up are their two Short Fiction competitions, for short stories and flash fiction, and both offer tantalising rewards for their female entrants:

Generous monetary prizes and magazine publication await both winners, and the Short Story winner also enjoys a week’s writing retreat and a day with an editor!

(Details below are for the Flash Fiction and Short Story competitions respectively)

Entry Fee: £5/£10     Word Count: 300/3000 word limit     Prize: £500/£2000

Nature and Place Poetry Competition

Nature loving writers should be all over this one…

This competition from The Rialto invites poetry submissions dealing with any aspect of nature and place, and offers some unique additional prizes:

Winners will enjoy personal tours with celebrated nature writer Mark Cocker and leading ecology professor Nick Davies – a treat for any naturalists out there.

Entry Fee: £6     Word Count: 40 line limit    Prize: £1000

More Writing Resources

That’s it for the best writing competitions, but what about the best websites to do freelance writing for? Or advice for writing dialogue, or characters?

Check out our Writing 101 page – home to all of this and a whole host of other useful resources, and practical tips aimed at helping you become a better writer.

We’d love to know about your own experience of entering competitions. Have a favourite not listed here? Planning on submitting to any of those above? Let us know below!

Share these great writing competitions:


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?

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 March 2017.

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