The best free literary contests with deadlines to October 31 |

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Winning Writers Newsletter - September 2020

View Free Contests

We found almost two dozen excellent free poetry and prose contests with deadlines between September 15-October 31. In this issue, please enjoy "Because I could not stop for Death" by Emily Dickinson, illustrated by Julian Peters.

Tom Howard/Margaret Reid Poetry Contest

Last Call!
Deadline September 30. We have increased the Tom Howard Prize to $3,000 for a poem in any style or genre, and the Margaret Reid Prize to $3,000 for a poem that rhymes or has a traditional style. Ten Honorable Mentions will receive $200 each (any style). The top 12 entries will be published online. The top two winners will also receive two-year gift certificates from our co-sponsor, Duotrope (a $100 value). Length limit: 250 lines per poem. Entry fee: $15 per poem. Final judge: S. Mei Sheng Frazier, assisted by Jim DuBois. Our contests are recommended by ReedsySubmit online or enter by mail.

View past newsletters in our archives. Need assistance? Let us help. Join our 135,000 followers on Twitter. Advertise with us, starting at $40.

Featured Sponsor: Enter Dozens of Contests for One Low Price

Don't miss these contests. All have cash prizes. At FanStory, you can enter dozens of contests, get feedback for everything you write, and have fun with your writing. Membership is only $9.95 per month. Discounts available! View the discounts.

Recommended by Reedsy100 Word Flash Fiction
Write a flash fiction story on any topic that uses exactly 100 words. Win cash!
Deadline tomorrow! September 16th

New Arrival Poetry
The purpose of this contest is to welcome new poets to the site. Write a 5-7-5 poem. The first line has five syllables. The second line has seven. The third line has five again. Cash prize to the winner.
Deadline in 2 Days! September 17th

6 Word Poetry
Write a poem with only six words. The winner takes away a cash prize.
Deadline September 25th

Cinquain Poetry
Write a 5-line poem with these syllable counts: 2, 4, 6, 8, and 2. Rhyming is optional. Choose any subject. The winner takes away a cash prize.
Deadline September 27th

3 Line Poetry Contest
Write a 3-line poem with these syllable counts: 5, 7, and 5. Cash Prize!
Deadline September 28th

Flash Fiction
Write a story (on any topic) using exactly 150 words. The title does not count towards the word limit. Cash prize to the winner.
Deadline September 30th

These are just a few of our contests. View the listing.

Recent Honors and Publication Credits for Our Subscribers

Congratulations to Anna Scotti (featured poem: "The Nature of Objects"), Gary Beck, Ute Carson, Paul Scollan (featured poem: "Wedge of Blacktop, Saturday, 1955"), Barbara de la Cuesta, Jennifer R. Farmer, Janet Garber, Dr. Christopher D. Handy, Rick Lupert (featured poem: "At Meiji Shrine"), Meg Eden, Neil Perry Gordon, Michael McKeown BondhusAngélique Jamail, Ellaraine Lockie, Freddy Niagara Fonseca, Antoinette Carone, Cynthia Harris-Allen, and Duane L. Herrmann.

Learn about our subscribers' achievements and see links to samples of their work.

Have news? Please email it to

Only Two Weeks Left to Enter the Dzanc Annual Contests

Dzanc Books 2020 Contests

Deadline: September 30

Award-winning independent press Dzanc Books seeks daring, experimental, and innovative literary fiction and nonfiction for its three annual contests:

  • the Prize for Fiction, which recognizes bold and well-crafted novels (35,000 words and up) and offers a $5,000 advance and publication;
  • the Short Story Collection, which seeks unique and powerful book-length collections and offers a $2,000 advance and publication;
  • the Diverse Voices Prize (no fee), seeking book-length literary fiction and nonfiction from writers in minority, underrepresented, or marginalized communities. The Diverse Voices Prize offers a $3,000 advance and publication. This contest does not have a reading fee.

The winner of the Prize for Fiction will be selected by Anne Valente (Our Hearts Will Burn Us Down and By Light We Knew Our Names), Tina May Hall (The Snow Collectors and The Physics of Imaginary Objects), and Jessie van Eerden, author of Call It Horses, which was chosen as the winner of last year's Prize for Fiction. The winner of the Diverse Voices Prize will be selected by Charles Johnson (Middle Passage, The Words and Wisdom of Charles Johnson), Chaya Bhuvaneswar (White Dancing Elephants), and Robert Lopez (Kamby Balongo Mean River, All Back Full). The Short Story Collection Prize is judged in-house.

Winners and finalists will be announced on January 15, 2021. $25 submission fee per entry for the Prize for Fiction and Short Story Collection Prize; Diverse Voices Prize entries do not require a submission fee. Enter via Submittable.

Enter the Indie Book Awards - Over 70 Categories to Choose From - Early Bird Special

Indie Book Awards

EARLY BIRD SPECIAL - Enter online by September 30 and receive a $60 discount on the entry of a second category.

The Early Bird Special Entry Fee is only $75 and includes the entry of one title in two categories. On October 1, the price to enter two categories increases by $60.

Entries are now being accepted for the 2021 Next Generation Indie Book Awards, the most exciting and rewarding book awards program open to independent publishers and authors worldwide who have a book written in English and released in 2019, 2020 or 2021 or with a 2019, 2020 or 2021 copyright date. The Next Generation Indie Book Awards is presented by Independent Book Publishing Professionals Group.

With over 70 categories to choose from, enter by February 12, 2021 to take advantage of this exciting opportunity to have your book considered for cash prizes, awards, exposure, possible representation by a leading literary agent, and recognition as one of the top independently published books of the year!

The 30th Annual Jeffrey E. Smith Editors' Prize

The Missouri Review's 30th Annual Editors'Prize

Deadline: October 1

$5,000 Fiction | $5,000 Nonfiction | $5,000 Poetry

Winners receive a cash prize, publication, promotion, and a virtual event to be determined. Submit one piece of fiction or nonfiction up to 8,500 words or up to 10 pages of poems. Enter online or by mail. All entries considered for publication. Regular entry fee: $25. All-Access entry fee: $30. Winners will be announced in early 2021.

Each entrant receives a one-year subscription to the Missouri Review in digital format (normal price $24) and the digital short story anthology Strange Encounters, forthcoming from Missouri Review Books (normal price $7.95). All-Access entrants receive full access to our ten-year digital archive.

Check out these excerpts from last year's winners, Seth Fried in Fiction, Heather Treseler in Poetry, and Jennifer Anderson in Nonfiction.

Please enjoy this reading and conversation with Heather Treseler on YouTube.

Questions? Email

The Brush & Lyre Prize from Palette Poetry

The Brush & Lyre Prize

$3500 Awarded for Artfully Communicated Poetry

Deadline: October 18

We are so thrilled to offer poets space to stretch their creativity into new and exciting projects. This unique multimedia contest will accept work that incorporates poetry into new media formats, including but not limited to: music, video, art, photography, sculpture, and performance—use the communication technique that you feel most creatively gets across the experience of your poetry. You choose the creative canvas. $3500 will be awarded and all winners will be published on Palette Poetry.

We will rate the work accordingly: 50% poetic experience, 50% media experience. Each submission must include poetry into the work in some significant way—visually written or audio recorded. Ekphrasis is welcome as well, as long as the art is original.

We're looking to experience poetry in a new way, beyond just black text on a blank page! Our editorial team will select the winner of the $3000 top prize, as well as two runner-ups for $300 and $200 respectively. We can't wait to see what you send us!

Full details and submissions

New Letters $1,000 Editor's Choice Award

New Letters

Deadline: October 19

New Letters is looking for work that experiments, that crosses the traditional boundaries of genre and form. Enter your hybrid work—your lyric essays, prose poems, short-shorts, collages, micro-memoirs...whatever you're doing that's experimental, that defies easy categorization. Entries must not exceed 8,000 words and must be previously unpublished. A one-year subscription to New Letters, shipped to any address within the United States, is included with the first entry. Enter via our online submission manager, Submittable.

Poetry, Short Story, and Nonfiction Awards at Cutthroat: A Journal of the Arts

Contests at Cutthroat Journal

LitMag's Anton Chekhov Award for Flash Fiction

LitMag's Anton Chekhov Award for Flash Fiction Deadline: November 30

First Prize: $1,250, publication in LitMag, and agency review.

Finalists: Three finalists will receive $100 each. All finalists will be considered for possible agency review and publication.

Entries must be unpublished short stories between 500 and 1,500 words. Enter through Submittable only. Entry fee: $16.

Click for the complete guidelines and enter your flash fiction.

Cutthroat Invites Submissions for The Corona Chronicles Starting November 1

Cutthroat Invites Submissions for The Corona Chronicles Starting November 1

Lilith Magazine Annual Fiction Contest (no fee)


Deadline: December 31

Calling all gifted fiction writers! Lilith Magazine—Independent, Jewish & frankly feminist—seeks quality short fiction, 3,000 words or under, for our Annual Fiction Contest. First prize $250 + publication. We especially like work with both feminist and Jewish content, and are eager to read submissions from BIJOC writers. Please submit to with "Fiction Contest" and your name in subject line and full contact info on manuscript. No fee to enter.

LitMag's Virginia Woolf Award for Short Fiction

First Prize: $2,500, publication in LitMag, and agency review
Finalists: Three finalists will receive $100 each

All finalists will be considered for possible agency review and publication.

Deadline: December 31

Contest Fee: $20. Entries must be unpublished short stories between 3,000 and 8,000 words. Submit through Submittable only. See the results of previous contests.

Two Sylvias Press WILDER POETRY BOOK PRIZE for Women Over 50

Deadline: December 31

Attention Women Poets:

Two Sylvias Press is looking to publish Full-Length Poetry Manuscripts by Women Over 50
  (Open to both established or emerging poets)

Prize: $1,000 and print book publication by Two Sylvias Press, 20 copies of the winning book, and a vintage art nouveau pendant

The Wilder Series Poetry Book Prize is open to women over 50 years of age (born on or before December 31, 1970). Women submitting manuscripts may be poets with one or more previously published chapbooks/books or poets without any prior chapbook/book publications. (We use an inclusive definition of "woman" and "female" and we welcome trans women, genderqueer women, and non-binary people who are significantly female-identified.) All manuscripts will be considered for publication. See the complete contest guidelines.

Learn more about the prize and Two Sylvias Press. Previous winners & manuscripts chosen from the Wilder Poetry Book Prize include Gail Martin, Kelly Cressio-Moeller, Erica Bodwell, Adrian Blevins, Dana Roeser, Molly Tenenbaum, and Carmen Gillespie.

Simultaneous submissions allowed.

NOTE: Our mission at Two Sylvias Press is to support poets. Your manuscript will NOT be disqualified if it was submitted incorrectly. We will not penalize you for trying and making a mistake. If we have a question or concern about your manuscript format, we will contact you and allow you to resubmit. Please know that we are on your side. Thank you for trusting us with your work.

Rattle Chapbook Prize

Rattle Chapbook Prize

Deadline: January 15, 2021

The annual Rattle Chapbook Prize gives poets something truly special. Every year, three winners will receive: $5,000 cash, 500 contributor copies, and distribution to Rattle's ~8,000 subscribers. In a world where a successful full-length poetry book might sell 1,000 copies, the winning book will reach an audience eight times as large on its release day alone—an audience that includes many other literary magazines, presses, and well-known poets. This will be a chapbook to launch a career.

And maybe the best part is this: The $25 entry fee is just a standard subscription to Rattle, which includes four issues of the magazine and the winning chapbook, even if it isn't yours. Rattle is one of the most-read literary journals in the world—find out why just by entering! For more information, visit our website.

We congratulate our three winners from our 2020 contest:

  • Kathleen McClung, A Juror Must Fold in on Herself (September 2020)
  • Tom C. Hunley, Adjusting to the Lights (December 2020)
  • Jessy Bertron, A Plumber's Guide to the Light (March 2021)

Please enjoy this poem from Ms. McClung's winning entry:

The Public Defender First Approaches the Box

My client's just like you, except he's not
got gum or ibuprofen in a purse.
His silence is his right. I'll talk a lot

about the night in question, which was caught
on video. Your call: a blessing or a curse.
My client's just like you, except he's not

inclined to ruminate, to dwell on thoughts
of Trump and Pence; he's clear which one is worse.
His silence is his right. I'll talk a lot

about police departments, how they're fraught
with graft, with hotheads prone to pull triggers.
My client's just like you, except he's not

received a fair shake from these guys. You ought
to walk inside his shoes, then write some verse.
His silence is his choice. I'll talk a lot.

Some sentences may leave you cold—some, hot.
My job: to sow a field of doubts through words.
My client's just like you. Except he's not.
He's silent. So are you. But me, I talk a lot.

Walking into Lightning, poems by Ellen LaFlèche

Walking into Lightning

Winning Writers contest judge Ellen LaFlèche's debut poetry collection, Walking into Lightning, explores the dying of the poet's husband of ALS in 2014, and the first years of widowhood. With profound sensuality and intense imagery, these poems speak of the physicality of love and loss, and the whole territory of grieving: its violence and its ordinariness, the interplay of memory, desire, and sorrow.

"Walking into Lightning is a tender, fierce, raging, stunning book that left me breathless. How generous of Ellen LaFlèche to share this intimate love story with the world! Her metaphors go straight to the heart: seagulls hover 'like crosses over the waning tides'; dawn is 'a languid unfurl, / a woman releasing her hair pin by pin from her nape'; and an IV bag is 'a goblin's bobbling head'. The tension between the sensual and the sorrowful makes this book stand out from other poetry collections about loss and death. Walking into Lightning is an extraordinary collection that teaches us how to live each moment to the fullest."
—Lesléa Newman, author of I Carry My Mother and Lovely

Please enjoy this poem from Walking into Lightning:

Because the dead cannot tell us what it's like to die

That time our yard was a blurred gyroscope of snow
and our driveway a gloss lake of ice. 
Your breath: a momentary ghost on our bedroom window.
Snow shivered the pine needles
and a maple branch snapped off at the elbow.
A blue jay slung a blur of sky across the storm
and somehow, somehow
the sun slipped through that momentary blueness.
Your breath on the glass glowed hot with light.
Dying might be like that.

That time we watched the ocean roll, ancient with salt,
with boneless creatures bobbing through the breakers.
The sun lulled our muscles like a hot stone massage.
The waves unfurled their bolts of lace
and you peered into a quahog's pink-lined jewel box.
Sunset turned the water to Sauvignon wine
and sailboats to palettes of van Gogh mauve.
But you said there was nothing so beautiful
as my long white hair lifting into a squall.
Dying might be like that.

That time in the shower
when you slid an oval of jasmine soap down my right arm,
then my left.
I slid the mauve oval down your left leg,
then your right. Our breaths added the smell of fermented grapes
to the gathering mist. After the lathering,
steam lifted off your shoulders like a departing spirit.
My eyes wept away the soap's jasmine burn
and for a moment
I saw you pass through the frosted glass door.
Dying might be like that.

Buy Walking into Lightning at Amazon.

Jendi Reiter's Two Natures: "An Enlightening and Challenging Novel"

Two Natures

Jendi Reiter's debut novel Two Natures (Saddle Road Press) is the spiritual coming-of-age story of a NYC fashion photographer during the 1990s AIDS crisis. Two Natures won the Rainbow Award for Best Gay Contemporary Fiction and was a finalist for the Book Excellence Awards, the Lascaux Prize for Fiction, and the EPIC e-Books Awards.

British literary critic and fiction writer Jack Messenger says:

"Jendi Reiter's wise and ambitious novel Two Natures is the story of young gay man Julian Selkirk who, Crusoe-like, finds himself washed ashore in New York in 1991 and 'dependent on the kindness of strangers'. Julian is an aspiring fashion photographer whose career lows and highs quickly alternate, mirroring his personal exploration of the gay scene and his search for love. The spiritual and the carnal, the beautiful and the sordid, interweave in complex patterns, overshadowed by the gathering AIDS crisis, as the years to 1996 become increasingly hostile to difference. The intensely personal is the politically fraught, and Julian has to cope with the vagaries of love and ambition while mourning friends and lovers.

"Two Natures is an all-encompassing work that plunges us into New York's rent-controlled apartments, gay bars and nightclubs, and the overlapping world of fashion shoots and glamour magazines, in pursuit of the spirit of the times."

Read the full review.

Buy Two Natures on Amazon.

Spotlight Contests (no fee)

Some contests are best suited to writers at the early stages of their careers. Others are better for writers with numerous prizes and publications to their credit. Here is this month's selection of Spotlight Contests for your consideration:

Emerging Writers
PEN/Robert J. Dau Short Story Prize for Emerging Writers. PEN America will award 12 prizes of $2,000 and anthology publication for the first published short story, 12,000 words maximum, by a US citizen or permanent resident. Entries must be submitted online by editor. Eligible publications may be digital or print literary magazines, journals, or cultural websites. Stories must have been published in or are forthcoming in the current calendar year. Due November 15.

Intermediate Writers
Glenna Luschei Prize for African Poetry. The African Poetry Book Fund at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln will award $1,000 for the best full-length collection of poetry published in the previous calendar year by an African national, African resident, or poet of African birth or African parentage. Translations are eligible; self-published books are not. Publisher should send an entry form and 4 copies of each nominated title. Due October 1.

Advanced Writers
PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction. Books of fiction (novels, novellas, and short story collections) by US permanent residents published in the current year can win a top prize of $15,000, with four runners-up receiving $5,000. Recent winners have been well-established writers such as Philip Roth, Sherman Alexie, and John Updike. Due October 31.

See more Spotlight Contests for emerging, intermediate, and advanced writers within The Best Free Literary Contests database.

Search for Contests

Calls for Submissions Blurb Writing Contest
(100-word book blurb for an original project - September 15)

The Best New True Crime Stories: Well-Mannered Crooks
(narrative journalism about charming con artists - September 15)

Wicked Gay Ways
(poetry and short prose about queer sexual desire - September 15)

Fatal Flaw Literary Magazine
(poetry, fiction, essays, photos, with theme "Unreliable Narrator" - September 20)

Atelier of Healing: Poetry About Trauma and Recovery
(poems for anthology about transforming pain into art - October 2)

Rattle "Neurodiversity" Issue
(poetry by writers with ADHD, autism, and related conditions - October 15)

PSA: Free Election 2020 Voting Guide from New Readers Press

2020 Voting Guide

Voting can be an intimidating process, especially for adults with low literacy. To provide some guidance through election season, News for You® created the Election 2020 Voting Guide to better explain who can vote, how Americans choose their leaders, how to register to vote, and how to cast your ballot.

New Readers Press, the publishing division of ProLiteracy, created News for You to help adult learners understand current events. News for You is a printed newspaper and website that offers engaging, easy-to-read stories to help learners learn to read, write, speak, and understand the English language.

Download the voting guide.

Highlights from our Tom Howard/Margaret Reid Poetry Contest Archives

This month, editor Jendi Reiter presents some of our favorite poems from our Tom Howard/Margaret Reid Poetry Contest. There are many more in our Contest Archives.

Beebe Barksdale-Bruner

by Beebe Barksdale-Bruner

Most Highly Commended
2011 Margaret Reid Poetry Contest for Traditional Verse

by Phill Doran

Most Highly Commended
2010 Margaret Reid Poetry Contest for Traditional Verse

"GENESIS, 1978"
by Aliene Pylant

Honorable Mention
2014 Tom Howard/Margaret Reid Poetry Contest

by David Hill

Honorable Mention
2015 Tom Howard/Margaret Reid Poetry Contest

by Jed Myers

Honorable Mention
2016 Tom Howard/Margaret Reid Poetry Contest

"Because I could not stop for Death" by Emily Dickinson, illustrated by Julian Peters

Poems to See By features 24 classic poems with visual interpretations by comic artist Julian Peters. Mr. Peters has graciously allowed us to reprint "Because I could not stop for Death" from the book.

Because I could not stop for Death

Because I could not stop for Death

Because I could not stop for Death

Because I could not stop for Death

Because I could not stop for Death

Because I could not stop for Death

The Last Word

Jendi Reiter

September Links Roundup: The Rules Never Applied
[Fascists'] absurdity or incompetence isn't a lapse in effectiveness, it's a deliberate middle-finger to the very idea that truth matters in politics...The MAGA crowd's support for unchecked police power isn't actually inconsistent with their hyper-individualism about gun ownership, mask-wearing, and paying taxes. It only seems contradictory if you believe the surface claim that all Americans live under the same rule of law. But the rules were never meant to apply to them. Beneath the surface, there are two Americas. Authoritarian policing is for black people; freedom of choice is for white people.
[read more]

Jendi Reiter is the editor of Winning Writers.
Follow Jendi on Twitter at @JendiReiter.