By Rohi Shetty

When you participate in free writing contests, you not only have a chance to win prizes but it can also help you to complete projects within deadlines and show how you measure up against the competition.

Taking part in a writing contest is a great way to combat writer’s block because most contests have clear guidelines and deadlines. If you don’t win, you can repurpose your entries and publish them elsewhere and/or enter them in other writing contests. And of course, if you win, the boost to your confidence and credibility are priceless.

If you are new to writing contests, start by entering writing contests with no entry fee. Here are nine free writing contests that you can enter right away.

1. 53-Word Story Contest
Description: Each month Prime Number Magazine invites writers to submit a 53-word story based on a prompt. 53 words—no more, no less—titles are not included in the word count. (The prompt for October was doubt.) Stories not meeting this rule will be disqualified. Send only stories; poetry with line breaks will not be considered. One submission per person. All rights revert back to the author upon publication. Email your submission directly to
Prize: The winner gets published in Prime Number Magazine and receives a free book from Press 53
Deadline: The last day of the month by midnight Eastern Standard Time

2. The Crucible Poetry and Fiction Competition
Description: Open to all writers. All entries must be completely original, must never have been published, must be in manuscript form, and must not be involved in other competitions. Winners will be notified by October of the same year. Crucible will receive first publication rights to winning entries, after which rights will revert back to the author. Winning entries will be published in the fall issue of Crucible published by the Barton College Department of English. Fiction must be limited to 8,000 words or less. Poetry must be limited to five poems. Entries must not be entered in other competitions. All entries should be submitted electronically to:
Prize: Poetry: First Prize: $150.00. Second Prize: $100.00
Fiction: First Prize: $150.00. Second Prize: $100.00
Deadline: May 1 of each year

3. St. Francis College Literary Prize
Description: The biennial $50,000 Literary Prize is sponsored by St. Francis College to offer its support and encouragement to the literary community and mid-career authors who have recently published their 3rd to 5th work of fiction. Self-published books and English translations are considered. The next Prize will be for work published between June 2017 and May 2019.
Deadline: May 15, 2019. (Shortlist will be announced on August 15, 2019.)
Prize: $50,000

4. The Iowa Short Fiction Award
Description: Any writer who has not previously published a volume of prose fiction is eligible to enter the competition, including non-US citizens writing in English. Writers are eligible if they have self-published a work in a small print run. The manuscript must be a collection of short stories in English of at least 150 word-processed, double-spaced pages. Stories previously published in periodicals are eligible for inclusion.
Prize: Award-winning manuscripts will be published by the University of Iowa Press under the Press’s standard contract.
Deadline: Entries for the competition should be postmarked between August 1 and September 30; packages must be postmarked by September 30.

5. International Flash Fiction Competition
Description: The International Micro-Story Contest conducted by the César Egido Serrano Foundation accepts flash fiction entries in English, Spanish, Arabic, and Hebrew. Over 43,000 writers participated in the fifth edition of the contest.
Prize: $20,000
Deadline: The details of the sixth edition have not been announced as yet. Check the Foundation website for updates.

6. ServiceScape Short Story Award
Description: For this award, any genre or theme of short story is accepted. All applicants should submit their original unpublished work of short fiction or nonfiction, 5,000 words or fewer, to be considered. Along with receiving an award for $1,000.00 USD, the winner will have his or her short story featured within our blog, which reaches thousands of readers per month. The contest participants will retain all the rights to their submitted work. In order to qualify as a contest participant, a person must successfully submit the application form and must be at least 18 years of age.
Prize: $1,000 and the winner will have his or her short story featured in the ServiceScape blog, which reaches thousands of readers per month.
Deadline: 29 November 2018

7. Inkshares Mystery And Thriller Competition
Description: Any writer with a manuscript (partial or finished) that falls under the mystery or thriller genre can enter the contest by first creating a draft project on Inkshares, which includes your pitch, logline, working title, and genre. The book doesn’t have to be complete for you to participate. You simply need to build your project page and upload a chapter or a few to get started. Winners will be selected on the basis of both independent evaluation by Inkshares and unique pre-orders. The contest will end at 12 p.m. PST on December 14, 2018. At that time, the top three projects as determined by the highest unique reader pre-order counts (as long as they have a minimum of 250 unique readers) will remain on the contest leaderboard in first, second, and third place. Inkshares will evaluate all submissions for publishing and representation, even if they haven’t sold any pre-orders. (There is also a Horror Contest at with the same deadline and conditions.)
Prize: The purpose of the contest is to publish and represent at least three novelists in the mystery-thriller space. Each selection will receive the same editorial, production, distribution, and marketing support as any Inkshares project, including distribution into independent bookstores as well as Amazon, Apple, and Barnes & Noble. Each project will also receive representation in foreign rights as well as film and television. (The last published mystery by Inkshares receives a starred review in Publishers Weekly, was featured in the Washington Post, and is being developed for television.)
Deadline: December 14, 2018.

8. Novella-in-Flash Award
Description: Runs once per year. 6000 to 18000 word limit – each flash should not be more than about 1000 words. Enter the Novella-in-Flash Award here online. Winners will be announced in April 2019 on the Winners pages.
Prize: £300 prize for the winner, two runner-up prizes of £100. Winner and two runners-up are published in a one-volume three-novella collection. Each published author receives five copies.
Deadline: January 14, 2019 (midnight GMT).

9. 101 Word Short Stories Contest
Description: Write fiction stories with exactly 101 words. Don’t send previously published work and don’t publish your story anywhere else on the web, including your own website. Do not submit excerpts from your latest novel or short stories. Flash fiction should be a complete story. The title of your story does not count towards the total word count. You retain all rights to your work. If your story is selected for one of our anthologies, you will be emailed a formal contract to review and sign.
Prize: $10 for stories selected to be in Flash Fiction Magazine anthologies. You will be contacted with further details should you be selected. Also, every single story gets valuable feedback from one of their editors. (This equates to about $20-$40.)
Deadline: Ongoing.

Take Action Right Now!

  • Select one of the writing contests above
  • Schedule a time to work on your entry
  • Submit it at least a day before the deadline.
  • Let us know which contest/s you have entered in the comments below so that we can cheer you on.

(I plan to start with the 53-Word Story Contest.)

(31 October 2018)

Rohi Shetty is a doctor, health writer, and digital publisher. Check out his Kindle books on Amazon and connect with him on LinkedIn. You can contact him here if you want his help to publish and promote your books on Amazon or Smashwords.

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