Writing contests are great ways to build your portfolio, and hone your writing skills. For emerging writers especially, the price to pay is usually quite small, while the rewards range from getting published to receiving thousands. Not a bad trade-off. The only reasonable downside is all the extra work…for well…all the extra rejection. Ah, I’m only slightly kidding. Rejection is part of the journey. It’s the bumpy road that takes you from nobody to somebody. So even if you don’t win first prize, entering into contests can help you get better. This article looks at some of the best short story contests out there right now.
Benefits of Short Story Contests
Why submit to writing contests?
Whether you’re an up and coming writer or published author, writing contests provide great practice for honing your craft.
They allow you to churn out material quickly to make each deadline. Pumping out work nearly on-demand to meet these deadlines strengthens your writing muscles and your ability to face the blank page.
Deadlines are helpful too. For any level writer. These contests help develop the habit of actually finishing something, and often. It’s also great practice for sticking to your own deadlines.
Not to mention, another huge benefit of submitting to writing contests....getting comfortable with getting your work out there. Gone are the days of obsessing over every single word. Well, no, you’ll still probably do that, but at least now you’re not using stupid excuses to hide from rejection.
For aspiring writers, this consistency helps find your voice. Some competitions even provide feedback on your writing which is priceless if you want to become a better writer.
While there are a variety of writing competitions, short story contests are great ways to develop your skills as a writer. The focus is on writing compelling narratives in a more condensed time frame (not an easy thing to do) and if you can pull that off well, over and over again, you’re well on your way to becoming a writer people will want to read.
And while these short story contests are great practice, most often one contest will allow multiple mediums to write in — like poetry, non-fiction, etc. The contests below all include short story categories but may also include those other mediums.
Note: these deadlines and details sometimes change. Be sure to check the accompanied websites for the latest terms.
Short Story, Flash Fiction, & Poetry
An offbeat but provocative online mag that comes from Brink Literacy Project. This asks for works that push boundaries and take risks, a mag that boasts everything from comics to poetry.
For this contest, the short story is the main event with a prize of $1,000, but you’ll have the option of submitting flash fiction and poetry respectively.
Rolling Short Story Contests
If you subscribe to the Reedsy newsletter, each Friday you'll receive a writing prompt. You’ll have about a week to send it in, and you’ll get notified the next week if you’ve won! It’s a great weekly practice to commit to, and it’s completely free!
Black Lawrence Press Short Story Contest
Black Lawrence Press runs the Black River Chapbook Competition twice each year for unpublished prose or poems between 16 and 36 pages in length. It’s open to brand new, emerging, or established writers.
Chapbooks receive an ISBN and are nationally distributed through Small Press Distribution, as well as their website and Amazon.
Writer’s Digest Short Story Contest
The good ole Writer’s Digest! Send them your best short fiction in 1500 words or less. This one really celebrates the writer as the top 25 winners receive recognition. While the grand prize totals in at $3,000 cash, your short story published in Writer’s Digest mag’s September/October issue, and a paid trip to the annual conference, the other 24 winners get a little something too!
*See their website for more details. Writer’s Digest hosts a variety of competitions across categories with varying deadlines.
Flash 500 Annual Competition
Based in the U.K., this contest looks for any genre ranging from 1,000-3,000 words. It also gladly accepts stories written by or for children, which is a unique spin. The payments and fees are in British pounds on their site, but below is current approximate of the U.S. dollar exchange.
For more info, check their site.
Tennesse Williams / New Orleans Literary Festival
Tennessee Williams and New Orleans Literary Festival hosts their Very Short Fiction Contest, asking for an original short story up to 1,000 words max. The top prize is $500 bucks with a VIP pass to the festival, a public reading at the festival, and a publication in the New Orleans Review, as well as other mentions on social media, their newsletter and website.
Horror and Fantasy Short Story Contest
Brought to you by Pressfuls, the submission guidelines are simple — must be an original horror or fantasy short story between 2,000 and 10,000 words. But it must be WGAW registered, WGC registered, or some other copyright protection owned by the writer.
Winners will be announced on November 30th, 2020.
Rolling Fiction Competitions
Each season, HAVOK puts out a new contest. Each season has a new theme. Short stories, flash fiction, thrillers are usually welcomed. The themes function as writing and story prompts for you.
There are 4 competitions each year, 1 for each season, and the next one is approaching fast on October 5th, but that being said, the next one is just around the corner. Season 4’s theme is Sensational. It’s a journey of the senses to immerse the readers in everything possible in the human experience.
Check out their site for more info.
Reed Magazine Short Story Competitions
This contest awards fiction up to 5,000 words. All entries are considered for publication. See website for more information on eligibility requirements.
Short Story Contest Offered by The Madison Review
The entries open up on October 1st and the entries may be up to 30 pages, 1,000-7500 words (double spaced). This is an annual offering from The Madison Review, and also offers other opportunities for poetry.
Pithead Chapel’s Short Story Contest
The fifth annual short story award with the top three winners receiving cash prizes and the 4th and 5th receiving copies Tiny Love: The Complete Stories by Larry Brown. Your short story must be less than 4,000 words.
Emerging Writers Short Story Contest
This contest is open to those writers who have not yet been published in a nationally distributed magazine. Submissions must be less than 3500 words. The deadline is fast approaching, and by the time you read this, it may be passed. But this one is worth marking on your calendar. $1500 will be awarded for first place winner, and $500 for 2nd and 3rd place writers.
Annual Contests to Watch
The Raymond Carver Short Story Contest is one of the best to submit to, bookmark it or write it down, but remember it! With great judges and over 3k in prizes, the contest yields some pretty great fiction. You can also submit to them regularly. See their website for more details. $2000 will be awarded for first place winner, and $500 for 2nd and $250 for 3rd place writers.
Best Screenwriting Contests
If screenplays are your preferred writing medium, take a look at our next article which highlights the best screenwriting contests out there. See the requirements and deadlines to get your script noticed.