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Genre Writing Contests -- Why Not Try Them?

By Grace Tierney
Copyright © 2007 by Grace Tierney, All Rights Reserved

Have you ever dreamt of picking up that golden statue of Oscar and declaring your gratitude to everybody from your pet hamster to your mailman? Well if you have, you may want to try entering a writing contest. The statues are in shorter supply but you do get the joy of tagging "award-winning writer" after your name and most of them pay out in hard-cash, always a good thing in my book.

There are no Contests for Me

Oh yes there are! If I could find more than 200 for my fiction contest book, then you can find a handful for you to enter. Start locally - check for a  local writing group, the arts column in local newspapers, library, writing magazines, college notice-boards, and the Web site of your region's arts authority. Then think laterally, but still keep it local - are there any history festivals, literary festival, or theatre festivals anywhere near you? You may discover there’s a writing contest being run in your own town and it is always nice to support your local arts, isn’t it?

Afterwards, it's time to go national and international. Genre e-zines are great sources for contest information. The web sites of publishers sometimes use contests to find new writers amongst their loyal readers (and the pay can be particularly good on these). A good 80% of contests I've uncovered in five years of research on the topic were open to entries from countries other than their own, so remember to look beyond your own borders for possible competitions. Your being "foreign" in outlook or style may be just the edge you need to win.

The Web is a great place to search too and check out yahoo groups for listings:

Why Should I Bother?

To respectfully borrow a theme from Monty Python -- apart from providing publication, prizes, and deadlines -- what have writing contests ever done for us? 

  • They give us clearer guidelines than many publications.
  • They raise our profile at magazines and presses who take daily submissions as well as run contests.
  • They give us something impressive for our writing resume, blog, book cover, or query letters - if we win.
  • Sometimes we get a shiny trophy for our bookshelf.
  • Some contests are judged by prestigious writers, editors, agents, or publishers. Getting your name recognized by those people is never a bad thing.

Most of all they're fun. Quirky rules will force you to stretch your writing. I once entered a contest purely because I had to use the word "hornswaggle" (go on, look it up) in my short fiction. I won. The more unusual prizes are great - I've won everything from coffee to luxury weekend breaks. Cash is enjoyable too and more likely to impress your bank manager, mother  or teenage children.

How Do I Enter a Contest?

Find a contest that appeals to you and your style of writing. Write your best work, follow the entry guidelines carefully and submit your entry on time. You won't win every contest, nobody can do that, but contests make you write and all writing improves your skills. Sooner or later you'll get short-listed or win. 

How Long is a Piece of String?

Twice the distance from the middle to the end (think about it). As for genre fiction contests - that piece of string can be almost any length, which is good news if you specialize in shorts, novellas, or novels. Just check the word count details at the contest's Web site.

A Selection of Genre Contests

Dark Tales eContest (

Short fiction - horror and dark fantasy

Entry Fee: 1.25 UK sterling

Prize: 50 sterling plus publication


Mary Shelley Prize (

Short fiction - fantasy, horror, sci-fi

Entry Fee: ten US dollars

Prize: 1,000 US dollars and publication in "Rosebud"


Misfits Writing Contest (

Short science fiction, fantasy, horror or supernatural fiction for writers aged up to 16

Entry Fee: free

Prize: 75 US dollar gift certificate


The Fountain Award (

Speculative short fiction

Entry Fee: free

Prize: 1,000 US dollars


SpecficWorld Writing Contest (

10,000 words fiction - science fiction, fantasy and horror

Entry Fee: Six US dollars

Prize: 150 US dollars (1st), 100 (2nd), 50 (3rd), 25 (4th), and publication


SFWoE Contest (

Short science fiction or fantasy short fiction

Entry Fee: five US dollars

Prize: 200 US dollars and Web site publication (1st), 100 (2nd), 50 (3rd)


Firebrand / SF Reader Fiction contest (

short fiction in horror, slipstream, fantasy, sci-fi, steampunk, alternate history etc

Entry Fee: free

Prize: 400 US dollars, publication, and online interview (1st), 200 (2nd), 100 (3rd)

Novel Contests Open to Genre Novels

Innermoonlit First Chapter Award (

First chapter of a novel - all genres welcome

Entry Fee: free

Prize: 100 US dollars (1st), 50 (2nd), a signed novel (3rd)


Writer's Digest Self-Published Book Awards (

self-published book in almost any genre or non-genre style

Entry Fee: yes, at least ten US dollars (check Web site when 2008 contest opens)

Prize:  3,000 US dollars


Abilene Writers Guild Contest (

Various categories including novel in almost any and no genre

Entry Fee: ten US dollars for novels

Prize: 100 US dollars (1st), 65 (2nd), and 35 (3rd) in each category


Bards and Sages Contest (

Sci-fi, horror, and fantasy. Categories include novella

Entry Fee: five US dollars for novella

Prize: 150 US dollars (1st), 75 (2nd), 50 (3rd), and anthology publication


Now, once you get that "congratulations, you've won our contest" letter in the mail, just remember to let me know and consider it part of your acceptance speech. I just love knowing I helped someone to win. And if you get invited to the Oscars ™, you better let everybody at FM Writers know because we're going to be cheering at the red carpet.


Grace Tierney can usually be found in the Rejection Slip and Good News forums at Forward Motion and has recently published her second e-book “The Writing Contest Expert's Guide to Fiction Contests” ( - more than 200 contests for all fiction genres from flash to novels.