Just heard that the Lucent Dreaming novella competition has been cancelled. Results were due at the end of this month but there were only thirteen entrants! Entry fees are being refunded. It surprises me that during lockdown more people weren’t writing, but perhaps it reflects the lack of popularity for the novella form – I only know of one other current contest (the Clay Reynolds). Let’s hope that does all right.
- The Bridgend Writer’s Circle offers a first prize of £100 for stories between 1,500 and 1,800 words – entry fee £5 and a deadline of 1 March
- The Elmbridge Literary Competition seeks stories of up to 1,400 words on the theme of ‘music’. The entry fee is £5 and top prize £250; the deadline is 5 March.
- The Stella Kupferberg prize is one of those tight ones, with a limit of a mere 750 words. It’s associated with American public radio; besides a prize of $1,000, the winner gets their story professionally read and gains free entry to a ten-week course (not sure if this is accessible online). Entry is $25 and the deadline is 5 March.
- The Fowey Festival offers a prize of £200 for a story on the theme of ‘breaking point’. The entry fee is £10 and the deadline is 7 March.
- Wild Hunt magazine is celebrating its fifth birthday by running its first competition. A reasonable 3,000 word limit applies, and a fee of £4 with a prize of £200. No theme, but stories should embrace the ethos and mission of the magazine, which ‘celebrates the weird, surreal, the other, and imaginary worlds’. Deadline 9 March.
- The Nelligan Prize is for a story of 10-50 pages or 2,500 to a whopping 12,500 words. Entry is $15, the top prize is $2,000 and entries must be in by 15 March.
- Harper’s Bazaar wants stories up to 2,200 words on the subject of ‘Threads’. It’s free to enter, but there is no money prize, just publication and two nights at the Mitre Hotel in Hampton Court. The deadline is 15 March.
- I love this one. Silver Apples offers a prize of €100 for a story of 1,500 to 5,000 words, with an entry fee of €10. All entries must have been previously rejected by publishers or failed in an earlier competition! The deadline is 17 March.
- You’ll need a full completed novel manuscript (at least 50,000 words) for the Daniel Goldsmith First Novel Prize. Entry is £25 and you can win £1,000. The deadline is 30 March.
- The regular Henshaw competition requires stories up to 2,000 words; entry is £6 and the first prize is £200.
- The Short Fiction/University of Essex prize has an entry fee of £7 and a prize of £500 for stories up to 5,000 words. There is an additional prize for ‘Wild Writing’ which goes to an entry on nature/the environment.
- The Ernest Hemingway Short Fiction Prize is run by Fiction Southeast and apparently has no direct connection with the author or his granddaughter Lorian, who used to run a regular short story contest. Enter a story up to 1,500 words for $10 and you could win $200.
- The Clay Reynolds Prize is for a novella (20,000 to 50,000 words) and offers an advance of $500 and a publishing contract. There’s an entry fee of $20.
- Finally, the Bethlehem Writers want a story with an element of mystery, up to 2,000 words. They plan to produce an anthology of stories that are ‘Sweet, funny and strange’. Entry is $15, first prize is $250.
- Accenti is apparently a Canadian magazine with an Italian emphasis. Your piece can be on any topic. I sort of wonder whether it might need an Italian link, though it should definitely be in English. Non-fiction is allowed, but not poetry, plays, or essays. They’re looking for up to 2,000 words, the entry fee is $30 and the top prize $1,000. The deadline is 1 Feb.
- The Papatango play competition is back in a new form this year; normally the winner gets a full production and tour, but That Thing has made it difficult and for one year only they’re asking for an audio play, of 25 to 50 minutes (about the same number of pages. Entry is free and they provide substantial feedback to all entrants, which is a pretty good deal. There’ll be three winners this year with a top prize of £2,000 as well as audio production for all three. The deadline is 7 Feb.
- Another welcome freebie is the Artists and Writers Prize (yes, associated with the indispensable Yearbook). The top prize is an Arvon residential course, with publication on the website. These courses have a good reputation, but if you don’t want to go on one (as I don’t) the glory alone might not justify entering. Stories of up to 2,000 words are called for, and the deadline is 12 Feb.
- The Mary McCarthy Prize from Sarabande Books requires a manuscript of 150-200 pages, and an entry fee of $29. The winner gets $2,000 plus publication. The website gives a deadline of 15 Feb, but the Submittable page seems to say 21 Feb.
- My mind is slightly blown by the Puchi award. La Casa Encendida and Fulgencio Pimentel are looking for any kind of book project (comics, non-fiction, finished, unfinished, long, short, whatever), so long as it’s amazing. It can also be in any language, though at least a couple of pages and the supporting documents need to be in English. The prize is €8,000 plus publication and the deadline is 18 Feb.
- The Grace Paley Prize is part of the AWP award series; there’s an entry fee of $30 and a prize of $5,500 for stories of 150 to 300 pages; submit by 28 Feb.
- Finally, with the same deadline, the Scottish Arts Club wants stories of up to 2,000 words, with an entry fee of £10 and a top prize of £1,000. You do not have to be Scottish, though if you are, you’re eligible for another award.
- The Exeter Novel Prize has a deadline of 1 January (I don’t believe they’ll get much reading done that day, though). First 10,000 words with a 500 word synopsis – first prize £500
- Also with a 1 Jan deadline, Crazyhorse magazine wants stories of 2,500 to 8,500 words or 25 pages. The entry fee is $3 and top prize is $2,000 plus publication in the magazine.
- Bayou magazine will give you marginally more time if you want to go in for the James Knudsen prize, with a deadline of 2 January. Submit stories up to 7,500 words; there’s an entry fee of $20 and a prize of $1,000 plus a year’s subscription.
- The regular Henshaw competition has a deadline of 6 January with a first prize of £200. They want up to 2,000 words and the entry fee is £6.
- The Mogford prize offers a whopping £10,000 for a story about food and drink, up to 2,500 words. The deadline is 13 January, with an entry fee of £15.
- The K Margaret Grossman award, run by Literal Latte journal, offers a prize of $1000 for stories of up to 10,000 words, deadline 15 January. There’s $10 entrance fee, or you can enter twice for $15. They say that all entries are considered for publication, but the journal appears to be in trouble. It hasn’t published since its Fall 2018 number, so some scepticism seems excusable.
- The Bournemouth Writing Prize (previously known as the Fresher Prize) seeks stories up to 3,000 words, offering a top prize of £500 plus feedback. Th entry fee is £7 and the deadline is 25 January.
- Mighty Pens have a modest top prize of a £50 M&S gift card – but also a certificate and publication in their magazine. They want 500 to 1,000 words on the theme of ‘Winter’ (or possibly ‘Tears in Winter’ – that’s also mentioned at one point).
- The Parracombe Prize has a word limit of 2,020 (see what they did there), a first prize of £100 and an entry fee of £5.
- Secret Attic’s Long Short Story competition (they do have a short one as well) requires stories of 1,500 to 3,000 words (not all that long, then). Entry fee is £3.00, top prize is £100 plus publication in their ‘booklet’.
- The Winter Anthology, by contrast, has no hang-ups about word counts: send us as much as you like, they say. The top prize is $1,000, with an entry fee of $11.00. The winner is published in the latest anthology, and finalists are also considered for publication. They warn that if entries are not good enough, they will not award a prize; their Submittable page says reassuringly that this has never happened, but their webpage says it happened last year…
- Finally, it’s a bit out of my comfort zone, but the Fish Short Memoir competition has an entry fee of €18 and a top prize of €1000, plus publication in the Fish anthology.
Here are some thoughts about competitions – mainly short story competitions. This is an updated version of a piece I shared with the Croydon Writers a while ago.
I suppose my main aim as a writer is to get a proper novel published – but ‘you know it don’t come easy’. So about eighteen months ago I decided that I would go in for short story competitions a bit more seriously, with the aim of getting some recognition and honing my skills. I’ve won nothing, but I’ve been placed three times. I’ve had ‘honourable mentions’, longlisting or shortlisting seventeen times (not for seventeen different stories, though; The Reddifers has been listed in five different competitions, which might tell you something about my ‘carpet bombing’ approach). Five stories have been published in anthologies – nice to have an actual printed book. Of course, these ‘hits’ are the tip of an iceberg, with many, many ‘misses’ below the surface – I’ll confess that my spreadsheet (of course I have a spreadsheet) now shows a total of 124 misses (again, that’s not 124 stories), with many more entries pending and numerous competitions I’ve got my eye on but not yet entered. That’s a hit rate of about 12%. Overall, I feel encouraged, but I think I could refine my targeting a bit.
My basic strategy so far has been to enter everything I was eligible for, and where allowed, enter several times. I’ve ended up doing about six competitions each month. The main reason was simply to stack the odds in my own favour. One thing that seems very clear is that there is a considerable element of chance in all these competitions. Even a great story won’t get anywhere unless it is lucky enough to encounter judges who like the kind of story it is and happen to be in a receptive mood. Sometimes, I’m afraid, I feel sure my story did not get read at all. That might sound paranoid, but I can quote a couple of cases where the evidence is rather strong. In one I was given feedback that clearly related to another story (not mine); in another I got a panicky email saying they had mislaid my entry – that was on the day before the announcement of the shortlist, so although I sent them another copy I really doubt it got a proper chance! They only notify you if you get somewhere, so if your entry simply falls down a crack somewhere, you’ll never know (and most competitions won’t tell you if you were disqualified for some reason, which is pretty poor, I think). There is nothing to be done about this – I think it’s pointless to try to start an angry correspondence – but entering multiple times increases the odds of your story surviving and getting read by a sympathetic pair of eyes.
Let me digress at this point to raise the side issue of feedback. Competitions usually will not offer any feedback (a notable exception being the Grindstone site, which automatically gives really detailed feedback, though I think that may be changing this year), but some will offer it for an additional fee. Sometimes it’s worth it, but to date I have only opted for the cheaper ones. I’ve had useful feedback from Henshaw and the Fiction Factory; others were encouraging but not especially useful, and a couple didn’t seem to understand the story. One reviewer took so long to deliver and the comments were so formulaic it was clearly a waste of time and money. I’m not sure whether it’s more annoying to have negative feedback based on a misunderstanding or excellent feedback but get nowhere in the competition!
Anyway, my second reason for entering lots of times is that it takes the edge off failure. There’s always another competition coming along. In fact, you may even feel some compensating pleasure when a story fails, because now you can enter it somewhere else! But having given it a year, I don’t really recommend the carpet bombing approach. I think there are actually good reasons to be a bit more selective about what you enter. First, if you’re going for quantity, you do need a fair number of stories ready to go, or nearly ready. In fact, it’s difficult to say exactly how many stories I do have. To qualify for different competitions I’ve rewritten several in different lengths or with changes of plot to make them match a theme, so it’s not always clear what counts as a new story. Word limits for different competitions may be as low as 1,000 (ignoring the separate competitions for flash fiction) or as high as 10,000, though 2,000 is most common. I’ve found that sometimes, rather annoyingly, shortening a story to meet a word limit actually sharpens and improves it too. Overall I reckon that in practice I currently have about a dozen different stories I’m happy to submit and a few more I can brush up if needed.
A second good reason to be more selective is that most competitions charge an entry fee, and although they are typically small, this starts to mount up if you’re not careful (and especially if you start paying for feedback too). I’ve certainly spent a lot more on entry fees than I’ve made in prize money, and next year I plan to pare my spending down a bit.
A third reason is that you have to remember to ask yourself in each case – do I really want to win this? For large competitions the prize might be ten thousand pounds and a week in a luxury retreat; for small ones the first prize may not be that much larger than the entry fee. I’ve seen one or two competitions where the only reward for winning is publication, and you give away your copyright (typically I believe competitions reserve the right to publish your story in an anthology or elsewhere, but otherwise you retain all the rights). It’s good to see your work in print, but not so good you want to give it away. Even more reputable competitions may not be attractive. The Artist’s and Writer’s Yearbook, for example, runs a very respectable competition, with the winner going on an Arvon course and the story published on the website. But I don’t want to go on the course, so that’s of no value to me. If my story is put on their website the truth is that hardly anyone will read it, but I’ll be disqualified from entering it or publishing it elsewhere – so no thanks.
What stories should you submit? It goes without saying that they must match the entry requirements for the competition, including formatting. These vary a lot, and a small mistake can get you silently disqualified. On the other hand, where there is theme or a prescribed title I’ve found most competitions are quite flexible over interpretation.
To have the absolute best chance of winning, you should read past winners, find out who the judges are, and if they are writers, read their stories too, and then write something to match their tastes. I’m not willing to go that far – life’s too short and also I want to write what I want to write, not what some random judge prefers – but I do try to select which of my trusty dozen seems most likely to find favour. It follows that it’s good to have stories in a range of tones and styles. The White Review, for example, tells you explicitly that if your story isn’t innovative and exploring the boundaries of the short story form, don’t bother entering it. Others say they want real stories about relatable characters, not meditations on the writer’s inner life.
I think it helps to be aware of why a particular competition is running. Many are associated with local literary festivals; while most of these are open to anyone, some seek to promote local voices (some competitions are explicitly for minority or disadvantaged writers, of course). You may need to judge exercise judgement over that. The Seán O’Faoláin competition, for example, obviously has strong roots in Ireland, but it can certainly be won by someone from Surrey; in other cases if you’re not local, maybe don’t bother.
If you go in for short story competitions, what has your experience been? Are magazine competitions worth a go? How much is a reasonable entry fee?
(The picture of a white squirrel has nothing to do with anything, by the way; I just happened to see it on my statutory walk round Wallington earlier. We’ve had albino squirrels round here for years, so they evidently do OK. Tell, you what, it’s a writing prompt. There.)
- ‘Language Evolves’ is the theme for a science fiction story competition with a word limit of 2,500 and a deadline of 1 December. It’s free to enter and the top prize is £400 plus publication in the New Welsh Review. The competition is linked with a workshop back in August, but you don’t have to have attended.
- The Breakwater Review at the University of Massachusetts, Boston, offers $1,000 dollars and publication for a story of between 1,000 and 4,000 words. The deadline is again 1 December and the entry fee is $10.
- A rare novella competition is being run by Lucent Dreaming with word count limits of 15,000 to 40,000 words, an unusual opportunity if you’ve got something in that bracket. The deadline is 4 December, top prize is £100, publication and some other goodies. Unusually, simultaneous submission is not allowed, though since there aren’t many novella competitions that probably isn’t an issue. Entry fee £4.
- SF again; the Roswell Award is for stories up to 1,500 words; the top prize is $500, and your story may be read by a celebrity at the presentation. Entry is free and the deadline is 15 December. No fanfic, which won’t trouble me.
- Janus Literary has a competition for stories of 750 to 1,000 words on the theme ‘wild dark sea’. Top prize is $400 and online publication, entry fee is $4 and the deadline is 16 December.
- Staying with the general theme, Wild Words (an organisation that runs retreats, mentoring sessions and so on) invites pieces of up to 1,000 words inspired by one of three uplifting quotes (they actually say four quotes, but I only see three). The winner gets online publication and a one-hour mentoring session with the founder Bridget Holding. Judge for yourself whether that justifies a £7 entry fee. The deadline is 21 December.
- Go west for the Devon and Cornwall International Novel Prize, which calls for your first 5,000 words with a 500 word synopsis. The deadline is 31 December and the top prize is £2000, a trophy and an online publishing contract. The entry fee is £15.
- Finally, Swoop Books, the independent publisher, is running a competition for stories of 1,500 to 3,000 words on the theme ‘Ordinary People’. First prize is £100 and twenty stories will be published in an anthology (a proper paper one, I believe – that’s what I like to see); entry is £5.
My story Garghan House was longlisted in Crowvus’s Christmas Ghost Story Competition!
The Hammond House prize announces its results on a local (Lincolnshire) arts channel which they call ‘Billboard. This year they did a little montage of entrants, including me, introducing themselves. You can see it here, me at 8:50.
Last year I placed third, one of my best ever results, so it would probably be greedy to hope for anything this year.
- The Caledonia Novel Award offers a top prize of £1,500, and for the best entrant from the UK and Ireland, a week-long course at the Moniack Mhor Creative Writing Centre. The judge is literary agent Laura Williams, who I believe is keen to find new talent; entrants cannot already have representation. They want the first 200 pages plus a 200 word synopsis (rather tight); the deadline is 1 November so you need to get moving quickly.
- Also with a 1 November deadline is the Commonwealth Short Story Prize. This is judged in regions (1. Africa, 2. Asia, 3. Canada and Europe, 4. Caribbean and 5. Pacific.); regional winners get £2,500, with the overall winner getting £5,000. Entries in certain languages other than English are permitted (no idea how they judge across languages, and not all Commonwealth languages are covered – not even Hindi, it seems, though you can write in Bengali). If a winning entry is a translation, the translator gets a small extra prize, which is nice. They are looking for 2-5,000 words, one entry per writer.
- Sutton Writers, that excellent group, invites Christmas ghost stories of up to 1,500 words, deadline Friday 13 November… In addition to online publication there will be a cash prize made up of the entry fees (£5 per story), so the more people enter, the bigger the prize!
- Tripfiction promotes books with a strong sense of location, offering members a database where they can find recommended books about any particular place. Their competition encourages you to write some more of that kind of thing. They’re looking for 750 to 3,000 words with a strong ‘sense of place’; they provide more detailed tips, but only after you’ve registered (free) and signed up to enter. Top prize is £300, the deadline is 15 November.
- Hope Mill Theatre is looking for plays of at least an hour’s length; top prize is £5,000 and a full performance. Finalists also get a scene performed and one-to-one mentoring sessions. You need to submit the script, a short biog, synopsis and character list (thought a character list was a standard part of a script anyway?) all by 27 November.
- Fiction Factory offers a top prize of £300 for stories up to 3,000 words, with a deadline of 30 November. Top stories will be published in an anthology. The judge is Tim Symonds, who writes stories about Sherlock Holmes, which might be a clue to what’s likely to go down well.
- Last but certainly not least we have the prestigious Fish Prize for stories of up to 5,000 words. Top prize is €3,000 plus a 5 day Short Story Workshop at the West Cork Literary Festival. Second place brings a week at Anam Cara Writers’ Retreat and €300. Even the honourable mentions get €200, and the top ten stories will be published in an anthology. The deadline is 30 November.
I got an honourable mention for my story ‘New Troy’ in the Literary Taxidermy competition! This is an unusual competition where you have to take the first and last sentences of a novel (Brave New World in this case) and fill in the gap with a new story.