Contests for Your Novel, Story, Essay, or Poetry: A Short List

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The first thing I discovered when I searched online for “literary contests,” was that there are an awful lot of them. It was like shopping for toothpaste at Walgreens. I waded through, chose a few at random and, once I got started, have enjoyed the whole process thoroughly.

But while the initial confusion did clear up, one must still sort through: contests for novels and contests for short stories and essays; contests for poetry and children’s books; contests that will accept only work that has never been published and others, work that has been self-published but not published professionally. Some will accept anything. Some are free, some fairly cheap ($20+), others a bit more ($50-$70). Most are worth entering.

**Many of the contests listed here belong to a group called  Often, once your information is entered in one contest, you will find you don’t have to fill in the basic forms for others.



  1. North Street Book Prize

Your self-published book can win up to $3,000 plus expert marketing services.

Submission fee: $60.00

This contest accepts self-published books only.  I submitted what I consider the best of my two self-published works.


  1. Tom Howard/John H. Reid Fiction & Essay Contest

Submit published or unpublished work. $5,000 in prizes.

Submission fee: $20. per entry.

This contest is a gold mine. You can submit published or unpublished essays or stories, and you can submit as many as you want.  I have submitted three short stories and two essays, every one created as I described in “The Contests: Stories and Essays.”


  1. First Novel Prize (London) 

A literary contest open to previously unpublished and independently published novelists. First Prize:  £1000;  Second Prize:  £250;  Third Prize:  £100

Submission fee: $36.00 USD

Accepts unpublished AND self-published novels. I submitted the same novel that I did for #1 above.



  1. The Nelligan Prize for Short Fiction

The winner receives a $2,000 honorarium and the story is published in the fall/winter issue of Colorado Review.

Submission fee: $15 per entry

     2. New Ohio Review

Literary Prizes for Poetry, Short Stories, Essays.

Cash prize: $1000.
Submission Fee: $20.

I have not submitted anything to this contest but almost certainly will submit a story or essay in 2019.


  1. Don’t forget the Howard/Reid Competition listed above.



  1. “ Poets and Writers” Under the Tab “Publish Your Writing.”

2. Aspen Words

A list of five writing contests

3. The Writer Magazine

Looking for writing contests?

Sign up for The Writer e-newsletter to get the inside scoop on our latest contest announcements.

Looking for writing prompts?

Sign up for our free enewsletter to get a dose of writing inspiration delivered to your inbox each week. You’ll also get writing tips, publishing advice, and information on our latest writing contests. 

There are an awful lot of writing prompt sites, some better than others. The prompts from The Writer Magazineare especially challenging and innovative.



I have limited this list to the contests to which I submitted, with fear and trembling, my recently completed novel–I’m Not Going to Heaven. I’m Going to Birmingham: A Story of the South.

  1. The William Faulkner Literary Competition

For Novels:

Winner:  $2000;  Second Place:  Honorable Mention Certificate
Submission fee: $50.

The contest also includes the categories of One Act Play, Poetry, Adult Short Story, and Student Short Story.

 This was the first contest to which I submitted my new novel. Although I had, by this time, submitted previously self-published novels, my anxiety level about this one was high. The guidelines were clear, the forms simple.


     2. Pirate’s Alley Faulkner Society
William Faulkner-Wisdom Competition

A prize of $7,500 is given annually for a novel. A prize of $2,000 is given for a book of nonfiction; three prizes of $1,500 each are given for a short story, a novella, and a novel-in-progress; and two prizes of $1,000 each are given for a poem and an essay.

Submission fee: $35

The Bad News: Very Complicated Submission Guidelines
The Good News: Very pleasant people to deal with.


     3. The Hackney Literary Awards

Prizes in poetry and fiction at the national level and for the state of Alabama.

The annual competition awards $5,000 in prizes for poetry and short fiction ($2,500 national and $2,500 state levels: 1st place, $600; 2nd, $400; 3rd, $250). A $5,000 prize is also sponsored by the Morris Hackney family for an unpublished novel.

Submission fees: Novel, $30.; Short story, $20.; Poetry, $15.

This was an easy application process and my impression is that, while there are certain prizes for which Alabama residents will be given priority, those are not prizes that will interfere with submissions from elsewhere.


A WARNING: Once you have made your way through the thicket of contests, paid your fee, and submitted your manuscripts, you face the real challenge: WAITING.  

Most of these contests don’t announce winners until sometime in the fall. 























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