If you’re searching for the best way to submit to fiction writing contests, you may be a bit overwhelmed. There are hundreds of options that range from scams to high-exposure, free-to-enter blockbusters. Through a lot of trial and error, some research and a propensity to have strong opinions about one thing or another, here’s what I’ve discovered.
(Please note that I focus on contests that offer the widest range of entry requirements. None of the contests, as of this writing, require your story to be about food, technology, zebras or any of the other rules that contests force upon us.)
The top 5 writing contests
Here are the top 5 writing contests, as measured by BANG! for buck.
Benjamin Franklin Awards
Independent Book Publishers Association runs this one. I’m a member, but don’t get any dough for recommending them. The cost is $225 for non-members (which includes one year membership to IBPA). While there is no cash prize, the competition has a lot of cred. It’s been around for 25 years. First call deadline: September 30th, 2016. Final deadline: December 15th, 2016.
Writer’s Digest Writing Competitions
Writer’s Digest has a pretty good rep as a place for authors to find useful advice and tools/services. Their contests have thousands of dollars in prizes, but more importantly, they have clout. Not Klout. Real clout ;-)
All the contests, except the Your Story writing contest, cost something — but not more than $110. Prizes include cash, up to $3000.
Writer’s Digest Annual Writing Competition (their catch-all contest which allows almost everyone to enter).
Short story Competition
Self-Published Book Awards
Popular Fiction Awards
Your story (this one is free and the winner’s 750 word story is published in their magazine) Rolling submission deadlines, so enter away
The IPPY Awards
Entry per category for the first book was $75. Winners get a nice flood of exposure, notably through Publisher’s Weekly publications and emails. Deadline, February 25th, 2017.
National Book Foundation
These guys have been around forever. Lots of cred, a little on the stuffy side, and a nice, big deal if you place in the competition. They’ll take books from small publishers, but no self-published books are allowed. The cash prizes are up to $10,000 They have $125 fee per submission, which they’ll take off your hands during the submission process. (Thanks to Jennie Goutet for pointing out a rule change)
This is a bit more specific than the other contests but Romance is eternally hot and I want all of you to know about it. The Inkitt Amour contest is more like a publishing deal. A good one. In fact, I thin it’s where traditional publishing is going. Check out the perks:
$6,000 in Book Marketing
A dedicated marketing team
Professional editing & cover
The 25% royalty means that this is a contest for talented newcomers who want to build a fan base. You can do better in percentage profit on your own. But will you have your own marketing team dedicated to making your book a success?
Okay, looks like this post is now the Top 6 contests!
Amazon’s Kindle UK Storyteller Award
Amazon’s back in the game! After phasing out their annual literary award they’ve launched the Kindle UK Storyteller Award. Here’s the deal:
Competition entry period begins at 00:01 (GMT) on 20th February 2017 until 23:59 (BST) on 19th May 2017 (the “Entry Period”). To enter, during the Entry Period you must go to the Kindle Direct Publishing (“KDP”) sign-in page at (https://kdp.amazon.com) (you may select the language for your region in the upper right corner of the page) and follow the instructions to upload and publish to KDP an original, previously unpublished, English-language book authored solely by you (the “Book” or the “Entry”), and include the exact phrase “StorytellerUK2017” in the “keywords” metadata field in order for us to identify your Entry. Entry into the Competition also requires that you have an Amazon account and a completed KDP account and you have accepted the KDP Terms of Service and the Terms and Conditions for KDP Select Program located at (https://kdp.amazon.com/terms-and-conditions)
The prize? A cool £20,000 and a prize ceremony in London. Classy.
Don’t see a contest that you like here?
Browse two local booksellers!
Skim the shelves where your book will one day be prominently placed (if there’s any justice in the universe). You’ll find stickers or emblems on some books with contests/competitions that the publisher felt were worthy of mentioning up front. These are usually the big boy awards, but you’ll also find some niche awards this way, too.
Try it, it’s fun! You get to scour books and work at the same time!
Be careful of two things.
One, rights. Make sure the fine print doesn’t lay claim to your work. You’re not giving them the right to anything, except the privilege of giving you an award for your great writing. A number of contests offer publication of your work as a prize, and if that’s what you want then go for it. Just be careful they don’t overreach.
Two, rules. You don’t want to prepare your submission and then find that your story exceeds the limit by a thousand words!
Don’t rush in. Read the teeny, tiny, itsy, weeny print. It’s adorable!
Free or fee?
Should you pay, or should you go for the free contests only? That’s a tough one, since most of us are made of 90% water, and 0% money.
The bottom line is that if the contest is perfect for you, and you’ve checked your writing with a pro editor, then it’s worth paying something.
Important point: It’s best to set out with a budget for contests before you start looking for which ones to enter. You don’t want to go broke when your ambition starts arguing with your income. In my experience, ambition can be a hell of a debater.
Finally, when you have a list of five contests, STOP! One way to make sure you never catch a bunny is to chase two at the same time, right? So focus on your top five. No more for now. You can get to more when you’re done submitting to the ideal choices.
You won! Now what?
If you win, or earn a finalist/honorable mention title, then the hard work starts.
- Announce it everywhere. Tout it on your Twitter/Facebook/ G+/Amazon author/Goodreads profiles.
- Post a press release with the award name next to your name in the H1 of your site. This way Google will make the association between you and the award. If enough people pick up the story (don’t forget to leverage friends and fans!) your chances of having your name attached to the award’s name in search results grows.
- Add the award to your email signature.
- Resubmit the story to any agents or editors you’ve reached out to. Winning an award usually pushes the reset button so it’s worth a shot.
Contests are a great way to hone your craft and show the world how much better you are than that other dude writing over there. The one with the empty coffee cup, who’s been hogging the electrical output,
Now head on over to Poets and Writers website and dig into their awesome list of writing contests! You can also see a current list of contests here. And good luck.
I’ll add to this list as I run across reputable and influential contests. Be sure to these check out, too.
- Discovery Awards by IndieReader.com. The IRDA entry fee is $150 per title per category + $50 fee for each additional category entered.
- The Guardian is now doing a monthly contest for self-published novels. UK authors only. Who in the USA has the guts to match this? The Atlantic? Reader’s Digest? New Yorker? Anyone?
- The Kindle Book Awards are run by The Kindle Book Review.
- I also stumbled on this list of contests that are friendly to Indy authors!
by Ben Zackheim
Are you trying to find a good website theme for your author site? Check out my post, packed with excellent ideas!
WordPress themes for writers and authors
And if you want to get to know KDP better, read on:
The $1.1 Million question: Is KDP Select worth it?
Amazon KDP Select has a bridge to sell you! No, really.
You might be interested in Chanticleer Book Reviews Blue Ribbon Writing Awards. Nine genres; each genre has 4 to 8 different categories. We have received awesome testimonials from authors who have entered. Over $20,000 in cash/prizes/promotion will be awarded to 2013 winners. Overall CBR Grand Prize Blue Ribbon winner for 2013 will take home a $1,000 check. Each 1st place winner for overall genre will take home $ 250, a Chanticleer Book Review, digital and adhesive stickers, and lots, lots more! I invite you to visit http://www.ChantiReviews.com
Thanks! K. Brown @ChantiReviews
Thanks for the heads up!
Wow, that was very helpful. Thanks for the tips!
Anytime! Love sharing what I learn. It’s like a maze out there.
Thank you so much forthe useful info… and for the laughs! You write so well and have such a witty sense of humor!!! Cheers
Thanks for reading, Nicole!
I am going to devour all these posts! I want to be the next big thing… you know, I am very humble and perfect ;-)
And you have good taste in blog posts! ;-)
This is great, thank you!
Thanks for reading, Jason! If you run into any other exceptional contests, let us know, please.
If you write genre fiction, you have very little chance of winning the contests you list.
Hi Sandy. Good point! Though the Writers Digest and Amazon contests do have genre categories — that makes it a little easier to find the right niche.
I’m so happy to have stumbled on this because a lot of the deadlines are NOW! Too bad memoir is out for the Amazon award, but I’m going to shoot for the others. Thanks for compiling this list and for all the helpful additions you gave.
Thanks very much for reading! Good luck. And there’s always next year for the Amazon award ;-)
One other thing, for NBF the fine print now says to be prepared with payment info when you start the online submission process. I wonder if that has changed? Also, it’s addressed to publishers. What if I self-published? Can I still enter my book? Thanks!
Thanks for the catch! They now take payment during the submission process. Looks like they’ve caught up with the times…
The NBF will take small press books, but not self-published books. Their loss!
I’m late in replying, but thanks for this. :-)
My pleasure! Thanks for reading.
I am a disabled vet. and I write poetry but not really caring about being rich,,I just want to get my poetry that is already published and printed on hard back out there..People can read for free,,just type in BEHIND THE DOORS,Pain and poetry by Michael Alan Lusby and this would make these twenty plus years of headaches worth the pain,I am finally published and love my book.Thank you for helping me cut down a path way to the highway.
Hey – thanks for the shootout there. :-) Just came back to grab your link so I could pass it on to a group of authors.
GAH! Shoutout not shootout – autocorrect.
I am happy you found me and the link. I am not really into computers until recently bu it is good to know people are out there,,thanks again for not shooting it out with me!!!
Thanks for your service, and good luck with your book!
God bless,,and thank you for yours as well,,PS..I found alot of spelling errors in my book,, I will correct and republish it is a matter of education not inspiration..
On thing to remember. I personally ran across this with my Code Name Series. I have three books, the first, Code Name Sonny, did very well in contests. But, the follow on books did not. Why? Because the judges for the follow on books did not read the first one(or two) books in the series. Of course they were confused from the start. So…If you have written a series, I would only submit the first book, unless they can ensure that the books will be judged as a continuing series, by the SAME judges.
Great point, K.E. I pondered submitting my third Shirley Link work but chose not to for that reason. I try to make every book a good read for new readers. But when it comes to contests it’s better to be safe and submit book one.
Thank you so much, I will show the world how much better I am than the other guy. This was a great help, now I know not to jump head first like I planned on doing and you definitely gave me my list to submit too.
Great, James! Good luck to you and thanks for reading.
The Virginia-based James River Writers has a new contest for self-published novels. You don’t have to be a Virginia resident to enter. The contest is being judged by literary agent April Eberhardt, and the top prize is $500 plus a ticket to JRW’s well-regarded annual writing conference. All details are here: http://www.jamesriverwriters.org/best-self-published-novel-contest. The deadline is July 18.
Winning Writers recently launched its first annual North Street Book Prize for self-published books. Three top winners will each receive $1,500, a credit towards the high-quality publishing services at BookBaby, free advertising in the Winning Writers email newsletter, and expert marketing advice from Carolyn Howard-Johnson, author of The Frugal Book Promoter. The deadline is June 30, 2015. The entry fee is $50.
Winning Writers has been delivering high-integrity literary services to authors since 2001. We are one of the 101 Best Websites for Writers (Writer’s Digest, 2015).
Full press release:
Please also check out the Feathered Quill Book Awards. We encourage nominations from Indy authors: http://www.featheredquill.com/awardprogram.shtml
Ben, Thanks for your insights. Super helpful to a new author.
My pleasure, Scott. Welcome to a new world! ;-)
There’s also The International Rubery Book Award. Check it out here: http://www.ruberybookaward.com
Thanks for the tip, Jon!
The Ben Franklin Awards are a joke. She Writes Press won the most awards last year won because the head of that press also became the head of the IBPA. It’s a set-up and a scam to get money, while the people in charge promote their own books and their own agenda.
Spend time on awards that don’t cost money and are done in a reputable way by objective readers.