26 Free Writing Contests With Cash Prizes (Up to $20,000)

Here are 26 contests for writers of fiction, non-fiction, poetry, and playwriting, offering cash prizes up to $20,000. There is also a fellowship included here, which pays significantly more. The contests here are broadly divided by geography. – S. Kalekar

International Contests Open to Writers Around the World

Contests Open to Writers in the USA

Contests Open to Writers in the UK / Ireland

Contests Open to Writers in Africa



Planet New Writers’ Competition
This is an essay contest on any subject for writers or journalists who have never published a book. Entries for the contest run by this Welsh magazine should be 1,500-2,000 words. Their guidelines say, “We would welcome creative and unconventional ways of exploring the essay form as well as a more traditional style.” (Before 2021, their annual competition was only open to writers under 30.)
Value: £200
Deadline: 1 September 2021
Open for: Unpublished writers (see guidelines)
Details here.

Wax Nine Chapbook Contest
Submit poetry or hybrid poetry manuscripts between 25-50 pages (max 50, including front/back matter). The contest is open to all writers, but those without prior chapbook or full-length publication history are especially encouraged to submit. Apart from a cash advance, the winner will also get chapbook copies and royalties.
Value: $250
Deadline: 1 September 2021
Open for: All poets
Details here

The Academy for Teachers: Stories Out of School
They want honest, unsentimental stories, of 6-479 words, about teachers and schools. The story’s protagonist or narrator must be a K-12 teacher. Sentimentality is discouraged and education jargon is forbidden. The stories will be published in the print edition of A Public Space.
Value: $1,000
Deadline: 1 September 2021
Open for: All writers
Details here.

Blair: Lee Smith Novel Prize
The indie publishing house, Blair, focuses “on authors and subjects historically neglected by mainstream publishers, including women, people of color, authors with disabilities, and LGBT authors. True to our roots in North Carolina, we look to the many voices of the South—and beyond—as sources of work and inspiration.” The Lee Smith Prize is for literary fiction manuscripts, of at least 25,000 words. They do not want genre fiction.
Value: $1,000 and publication
Deadline: 1 September 2021
Open for: Unspecified
Details here and here.

American-Scandinavian Foundation Translation Awards
The American-Scandinavian Foundation annually awards translation prizes for outstanding translations of poetry, fiction, drama, or literary prose written by a Scandinavian author born after 1900. The Leif and Inger Sjöberg Award is for those whose translations from a Nordic language have not been previously published. There is also the Nadia Christensen Prize, and the Wigeland Prize (this is for the best translation by a Norwegian). The application includes 50 pages of prose or 25 pages of poetry.
Value: $2,500 (Nadia Christensen Prize); $2,000 (Leif and Inger Sjöberg Award); $2,000 (Wigeland Prize)
Deadline: 1 September 2021
Open for: Unspecified
Details here.

On the Premises: Monster
They want short fiction of 1,000-5,000 words, and the theme is ‘Monster’ – stories “in which someone or something is considered to be a monster… and maybe that’s accurate! Maybe you’re writing a straightforward horror story. Or maybe the “monster” label is terrible and undeserved. Or is the truth somewhere in between?” Famous mythological monsters from history, religion, or folk tales are fine. They do not want children’s fiction, exploitative sex, over-the-top grossout horror, or stories that are obvious parodies of existing fictional worlds/characters created by other authors. Please note, the prize amounts for this contest have increased.
Value: $250, $200, $150, $75
Deadline: 3 September 2021
Open for: All writers
Details here and here.

Harvard University: Radcliffe Institute Fellowships
These are for various disciplines, including creative writing – poetry, fiction, non-fiction, as well as journalism, playwriting. Their guidelines also say, “Applicants may apply as individuals or in a group of two to three people working on the same project. We seek diversity along many dimensions, including discipline, career stage, race and ethnicity, country of origin, gender and sexual orientation, and ideological perspective. Although our fellows come from many different backgrounds, they are united by their demonstrated excellence, collegiality, and creativity.”
Value: $78,000, additional $5,000 for project expenses, office at Harvard University, additional funds for moving expenses, childcare and housing, etc.
Deadline (for some disciplines, including creative arts): 9 September 2021
Open for: All published writers and journalists (see guidelines)
Details here and here.
(There are other fellowships with deadlines in September and beyond – watch for our list on fellowships and residencies, which we’ll publish next week.)

The Forge Competition
The Forge literary magazine holds a flash fiction and non-fiction contest. Send a piece of up to 1,000 words. Submissions for both the fee-free and tip jar categories will be open from 1st September until 14th September, or until they reach 300 submissions.
Value: $500
Reading period: 1-14 September, or until filled
Open for: All writers
Details here.

Hektoen Grand Prix Essay Competition
Hektoen is a journal of medical humanities. They want an essay of under 1,500 words. Their guidelines say, “Topics might include art, history, literature, education, etc. as they relate to medicine. In order to ensure the receipt of a wide variety of articles, we have decided to exclude those dealing with COVID 19 from this contest. We have many articles on medical history, so please search for your topic to see if it has been extensively covered before submitting an article.” Read the guidelines carefully – submission of an article implies consent to publish in Hektoen International; also, “…an article may be published at any time regardless of the outcome of the competition. If major edits are made, proofs will be sent to the authors before publication.”
Value: $5,000; $2,500
Deadline: 15 September 2021
Open for: All writers
Details here.

Beechmore Books: Perspective
Beechmore is a London-based design studio that makes notebooks. They want fiction, non-fiction, and poetry for a contest, on the theme of ‘Perspective’. Their guidelines say, “Everyone’s perspectives have all been altered this year. Priorities have been re-orientated, the importance of connection and community has been highlighted like never before and many people’s world views have shifted, choosing to slow down, and re-evaluate what’s important in life.” Apart from cash prizes, the winners will also receive Beechmore journals.
Value: £200; £100
Deadline: 25 September 2021
Open for: Unspecified
Details here.

Ayn Rand Institute: Atlas Shrugged Essay Contest
This is an international essay contest for students. It is for 12th graders, college undergraduates and graduate students. Write an essay of 800-1,600 words on one of three specific topics centred around Ayn Rand’s novel, Atlas Shrugged — click on ‘Topics’ under the ‘Atlas Shrugged’ tab. (Submissions are also open for student contests centered around Anthem and The Fountainhead, with deadlines next year.)
Value: $10,000, three prizes of $2,500 each, five prizes of $500 each
Deadline: 27 September 2021
Open for: All 12th graders, college undergraduates and graduate students
Details here.

The César Egido Serrano Foundation VI International Short Tales Contest
This is a popular international microfiction contest. Writers who are over 14 years old can send up to two stories on any theme, of up to 100 words each. Entries can be in Spanish, English, Arabic or Hebrew; apart from the main prize, the best stories in the remaining three languages will get $2,000 each. Please read the terms carefully – the audience plays a big role in longlisting entries.
Value: $20,000; three prizes of $2,000 each
Deadline: 30 September 2021
Details here and here.

Bracken Bower Prize
The Financial Times and McKinsey & Company are open for the Bracken Bower Prize. This is an international award for young writers, for the proposal of a business book “about the challenges and opportunities of growth” . There are no restrictions on gender and nationality but authors must be below 35 years of age. The judges will be looking for a proposal for a book that aims to provide a compelling and enjoyable insight into future trends in business, economics, finance or management. The award is intended to fuel further research leading to publication of a full-length work. Co-authored submissions are also welcome. Writers have to register on the site here to receive further details on how to enter.
Value: £15,000
Deadline: 30 September 2021
Open for: All writers under 35
Details here and here.

The Writers College: My Writing Journey Competition
They want a 600-word piece on ‘The best writing tip I’ve ever received’. The contest is open to writers all over the world.
Value: AUD200/£100
Deadline: 30 September 2021
Open for: All writers
Details here.

International Human Rights Arts Festival: Two awards
They have two awards for writers.
— Creators of Justice Literary Awards:
They want submissions of fiction (up to 2,500 words), essays, and poetry that celebrates justice – writers can send one submission in each category. Their guidelines say, “This ideal may be imagined in any manner in which the writer sees fit, however, it must be based in our signature values of beauty, sincerity, vulnerability and engagement. We do not publish work or engage with artists whose work is based in anger, or stems from an “us v. them” mentality.”
Value: $150, $100, $50 each for fiction, essays, and poetry
Deadline: 30 September 2021
Details here.

— Art of Unity Creative Award: They accept literary (poetry; essays and short stories under 2500 words); video; music; dance; performance or visual work around the theme: “Never again: Remembering to heal and overcome. The most important hallmark of Holocaust remembrance and education is the phrase ‘never again.’ Unfortunately, tribal divisions, ethnic cleansing and genocides continue in the 21st Century. We are looking for submissions in any creative media (which can be exhibited online), and which highlight aspects of human unity, and positive cross-pollination between groups, ethnicities, religions and/or nations.” Each writer can send in one submission.
Value: $150, $100, $50
Deadline: 30 September 2021
Details here.

Jerry Jazz Musician Short Fiction Contest
They want a short story on any theme. Stories should ideally be up to 3,000 words, though those up to 5,000 words are accepted. Readers of the magazine are interested in music, social history, literature, politics, art, film and theater, particularly that of the counter-culture of mid-twentieth century America. Their newsletter subscribers include publishers, artists, musicians, and fellow writers. Their guidelines say, “While your writing should appeal to a reader with these interests and in these creative professions, all story themes are considered.”
Value: $100
Deadline: 30 September 2021
Open for: All writers
Details here.

NoTokens Young Writers’ Prize – Prose
This literary magazine wants stories, essays, and hybrid works from writers under 18 years.
Value: $300, $200, $100
Deadline: 1 October 2021
Open for: Writers under 18 years
Details here.

The Furious Gazelle’s 2021 Halloween Writing Contest
The Furious Gazelle literary magazine wants submissions of Halloween-themed poetry, fiction, short plays, and creative non-fiction. Each writer can submit either one short story (max 4,000 words) or up to three shorter pieces (any combination of flash pieces / poems is ok as long as they don’t exceed 3 submissions). Poems shouldn’t exceed one page; flash pieces should be capped at 1,500 words each.
Value: $50; $5
Deadline: 1 October 2021
Open for: All writers
Details here.

The Perito Prize
They want fiction of 1,000-2,000 words, centred around the theme of accessibility, inclusion, diversity & inclusive environments. Apart from the cash prize, the winner will also receive mentoring, as will the runners-up. Commended stories will be included in an anthology. Submission is via the Zealous platform.
Value: £500
Deadline: 1 October 2021
Open for: All writers
Details here.

Bonus: The Iowa Short Fiction Award & John Simmons Short Fiction Award
The awards offer publication for a collection of short stories. Manuscripts must be at least 150 pages. They offer a standard publishing contract. Submissions must be sent by mail.
Value: Manuscript publishing under a standard University of Iowa Press contract
Deadline: 30 September 2021 (postmarked)
Open for: All writers who have not published prose fiction (see guidelines)
Details here.

A couple of contests with later deadlines are: the 2022 Commonwealth Short Story Prize (a contest for writers from the Commonwealth – send a piece of short fiction of 2,000-5,000 words. They take entries in several languages apart from English. The top prize is £5,000, and the reading period is 1 September-1 November 2021); the Philosophy Essay Prize (the theme this year is Self and Society; send essays of up to 8,000 words. The prize is £2,500, and the deadline is 1 December 2021); and the ECW Press Best New Speculative Novel Contest (for a speculative fiction novel of 40,000-150,000 words by a Canadian writer; the prize is CAD3,000, and the deadline is 31 October 2021).


Gasher Journal First Book Scholarship 2021
This scholarship is to provide financial assistance of $250 to a writer submitting their first book. This year, they are offering two awards, one for Prose and one for Poetry. The book manuscript must be at least 48 pages in length.
Value: $250 each
Deadline: 1 September 2021
Open for: US-based writers
Details here.
(The literary journal is also accepting submissions in other categories – see guidelines.)


Hubert Butler Essay Prize: “During the plague I came into my own” (Anthony Hecht). Who or what benefited from Covid-19?’
This is an essay prize for citizens of the United Kingdom and European Union. Write an essay of up to 3,000 words on the topic, ‘ “During the plague I came into my own” (Anthony Hecht). Who or what benefited from Covid-19?’ The prize is intended to encourage the art of essay-writing with a European dimension and to expand interest in Hubert Butler’s work.
Value: £1,000; two second prizes of £500 each
Deadline: 3 September 2021
Open for: UK and EU citizens
Details here.

BBC TV Drama Writers’ Programme 2022
The aim of this programme is to give writers their first original television drama series or serial commission. 10 writers will be commissioned. Writers are asked to submit an original spec script (minimum 50 pages) and a one-page pitch outlining a potential series or serial idea for BBC One, BBC Two or BBC Three. The original spec script can be film, theatre, television or radio – any medium except for novels. Writers must have at least one professionally produced piece of narrative scriptwriting work, a minimum of 30 minutes in length, in television, radio, theatre or film; or must have an agent. The pitch needs to be a different idea from the spec script. Selected writers must be free to attend a three day intensive workshop in 2022 (dates tbc) and available to write their script and attend a series of writing workshops, lectures and readings across the subsequent months.
Value: Minimum script fee as agreed by the WGGB/PMA and the BBC on a favoured nations basis (currently £13,320 for 60 minutes)
Deadline: 13 September 2021
Open for: UK/Ireland residents
Details here.

Royal Society of Literature: Giles St Aubyn Awards for Non-Fiction
This is for UK/Ireland-based writers of non-fiction, to buy them time for completing their first commissioned work. Only works to be published in the UK or Republic of Ireland, or by UK/Ireland-based publishers, are eligible. The award will also take into consideration the author’s financial need.
Value: £10,000, £5,000, £2,500
Deadline: 17 September 2021
Open for: UK/Ireland-based writers
Details here.

Owdyado Theatre: ‘Twisted Christmas’ stage plays
Owdyado Theatre are running a writing competition for mini stage plays (5-10 mins long) responding to the theme ‘Twisted Christmas’. Their guidelines say, “Owdyado Theatre love twisted tales. Compelling stories, often dark in tone, that draw the audience in then thrill them with an unexpected plot twist! (we are big fans The Twilight Zone and Inside No.9, both of which have influenced our most recent stage work). For this competition, we are looking for Christmas- themed scripts that will become our new live theatre show ‘Twisted Christmas’ – to tour 2021.” Scripts must be suitable for a maximum of 2 adult actors. It may be useful to use a line from a Christmas song or carol as the title of your play. Monologues welcome. Send a stage play script, up to 10 minutes long.
Value: Three prizes of £500 each
Deadline: 19 September 2021
Open for: UK residents
Details here.


Graywolf Press African Fiction Prize
This is a prize for a first novel manuscript by an African author. They are seeking novels that are engaged with the current moment—stories that could only be told in our time. Writers have to be primarily residing in Africa.
Value: $12,000 advance
Deadline: 1 September 2021
Open for: African writers living in Africa
Details here.

Author Bio: S. Kalekar is the pseudonym of a regular contributor to this magazine. She is the author of 182 Short Fiction Publishers. She can be reached here.



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