The best free literary contests with deadlines to January 31 |

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Winning Writers Newsletter - December 2019

View Free Contests We found over five dozen excellent free poetry and prose contests with deadlines between December 15 and January 31. In this issue, please enjoy "Overheard on a Saltmarsh", illustrated by Linda Dyer.

Last Call to Lock in our 2019 Ad Rates
On January 1, our newsletter ad rate will increase from $150 to $175. Order now to lock in the lower rate into 2020. Order three ads at the $150 rate and get a fourth one for free. Great for promoting literary contests and services for writers.

Writer's Digest 101 Best Websites for Writers 2016 Thanks for your kind words!
We were humbled by your numerous nominations of Winning Writers for the Writer's Digest list of the "101 Best Websites for Writers". Here's a sample from W.R. Rodriguez, who won our 2018 North Street Book Prize for poetry:

"I would like to nominate Winning Writers for listing in the 101 Best Websites for Writers.

"Of special interest is their contest info, which includes contests to avoid.

"WW also offers contests of its own. As a recent winner, I am highly impressed about how supportive they have been: offering a detailed review of my work, a free ad, a marketing consult, and a credit for BookBaby—all of this in addition to a significant cash prize.

"All of this for an indie, self-published book of poetry: a category not served by many other venues.

"In my opinion, WW not only offers contest info, it also serves as a model of how a contest can serve the individual writer and the writing community."

View past newsletters in our archives. Need assistance? Let us help. Join our 125,000 followers on Twitter at @WinningWriters.

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Recent Honors and Publication Credits for Our Subscribers

Congratulations to Laurel Blossom (featured poem: "Esther and Willow"), Margarita Meklina, Louise Ells, David Kherdian (featured poem: "Here Now"), Gary Beck, Darrell Lindsey, Jude Nutter, Ellaraine Lockie, Joel Arthur Moore, Garret Keizer, Annie Dawid, Sandra HunterCyrée Jarelle Johnson, R.T. Castleberry, Richard Raymond III, Antoinette Carone, and Dean Kostos.

Winning Writers contest judge Ellen LaFlèche's poem "We visit the cemetery where you might be buried" was featured on the Mass Poetry website in November. Originally published in the bilingual French-English journal Résonance, the poem appears in her new collection Walking into Lightning (Saddle Road Press, 2019).

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

Have news? Please email it to

Catalyst Creative Coaching with Lindsay Merbaum

Catalyst Creative Coaching

Come with me on a journey.
Shed your fears. Embrace your hopes.
Dance madly. Sweat. Dream.
The path is there before you.
I will help you find it, learn its length and limits.

Whether it's a memoir, musical composition, sculpture, or something else that's got you stuck, I believe yours is a story worth telling. I offer support that takes you full circle through the creative process. We can start at the beginning with the inception of an idea or by removing a creative block, or we can jump into a later stage. My program is designed to meet your needs right now, wherever you are.

Come with me on a journey that will take you from self-doubt to success, from fear to self-discovery.

To learn more about Catalyst Creative Coaching with Lindsay Merbaum, visit my website – Student discounts available!

Last Call! The Dream Quest One Poetry & Writing Contest

Deadline: December 28

The Dream Quest One Poetry & Writing Contest is open to anyone who expresses their innermost thoughts and feelings as beautiful literary art that's worth telling everyone! We welcome all who dream…Write a poem or short story to compete for cash prizes totaling $1,275. All works must be original.

Prose prizes: $500, $250, $100
Write a short story, 5 pages maximum, on any subject or theme; fiction, nonfiction, or creative nonfiction (including essays, journal entries, and screenwriting). Entry fee: $10 per story.

Poetry prizes: $250, $125, $50
Write a poem with 30 lines or fewer on any subject. All styles and forms accepted. Entry fee: $5 per poem.

All entries must be typed or neatly hand printed. Multiple entries welcome. You may simultaneously submit work to this contest and to other contests. All winners will be published online on February 29, 2020. Read past winning entries.

Enter via email or mail. See details!

Our Mission
The Dream Quest One Poetry & Writing Contest seeks to inspire, motivate and encourage anyone having the desire or love of poetry and writing, to continue doing so without fear of failure or success! Remember, in whatever you do, "it's okay to dream," for dreams do come true…

Lilith Magazine Annual Fiction Contest (no fee)

Lilith Magazine Annual Fiction Contest

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 like work with both feminist and Jewish content. Please send submissions to with "Fiction Contest Submission" and your name in the subject line. Be sure to include full contact info on the manuscript and mention that you saw our ad in the Winning Writers Newsletter.

Deadline Extended! LitMag's Virginia Woolf Award for Short Fiction

First Prize: $3,500, publication in LitMag, and agency review
Second Prize: $1,000 and agency review
Finalists: Five finalists will receive $100 each

Agency review by Sobel Weber Associates (clients include: Viet Thanh Nguyen, Richard Russo, Laura Lee Smith)

All finalists will be considered for possible agency review.

All entries will be considered for publication.

Deadline extended to January 3, 2020.

Contest Fee: $20.

Submission Guidelines: Entries must be short stories between 3,000 and 8,000 words. Please use 12-point type, preferably Times New Roman, and submit your short story as either a Word doc or a PDF. Only previously unpublished short stories are eligible. Writers may submit multiple stories, each of which requires a separate submission. Submissions through Submittable only.

Notification: The contest will be judged by the editors of the magazine. The winning short stories and finalists will be announced publicly on our Web site and social media as well as by email to all contestants in March of 2020. See the results of previous contests.

Erma Bombeck Writing Competition Now Open

Erma Bombeck Writing Competition

Deadline: 8am EST, January 6, 2020

Bill Bryson and Jess Montgomery will serve as finalist judges for the 2020 Erma Bombeck Writing Competition, open now. Previously unpublished 450-word entries in humor and human interest categories are accepted online.

Betsy Bombeck, Erma's daughter, will keynote the 7pm awards presentation on April Fools' Day at the Woodbourne Library, 6060 Far Hills Avenue in Centerville, Ohio.

The writing competition, held every two years in conjunction with the Erma Bombeck Writers' Workshop, pays tribute to hometown writer Erma Bombeck, one of the greatest humorists of the 20th century.

Four winners will receive $1,000 and a free registration to the Erma Bombeck Writers Workshop, slated for April 2-4, 2020. Writers receiving honorable mentions will be awarded $100 prizes. There is a $15 entry fee to enter. Learn more.

Poetry and Short Story Prizes from BkMk Press

Submission deadline: January 15, 2020. $1,000 and book publication for each winner.

The annual John Ciardi Prize for Poetry and the G. S. Sharat Chandra Prize for Short Fiction are awarded to collections of poetry and short fiction in English by a living author. Guidelines available here.

Prize-winning books have received reviews or features in: Publishers Weekly, Booklist, Kirkus Reviews, ForeWord Reviews, Chicago Tribune, Los Angeles Times, Kansas City Star, Slate, etc., and won or placed in the Poets' Prize, Eric Hoffer, IPPY, ForeWord, Chautauqua, Balcones Fiction, Devil's Kitchen, etc.

Founded in 1971 and part of the University of Missouri-Kansas City since 1983, BkMk Press publishes collections of poetry, short fiction, and creative essays. Publishing roughly six titles a year, the press has over 140 titles in print.

BkMk Press, University of Missouri-Kansas City, 5101 Rockhill Road, Kansas City, MO 64110.

Rattle Chapbook Prize

Rattle Chapbook Prize

Deadline: January 15, 2020

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 ~7,000 subscribers. In a world where a successful full-length poetry book might sell 1,000 copies, the winning book will reach an audience seven 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 2019 contest:

  • Al Ortolani, Hansel & Gretel Get the Word on the Street (sample poems)
  • Christina Olson, The Last Mastodon (sample poems)
  • Jimmy Pappas, Falling Off the Empire State Building (to be published in 2020)

Please enjoy this poem by Al Ortolani from his winning manuscript:


The day moves by me, and I'm still
at the same old desk that was two-wheeled
into my room by the custodian. The lights
run on some kind of motion detector.
If no one moves, let's say, in ten minutes,
they blink out, and I have to raise my arms
and wave them like crazy. Possibly,
they click back on. Possibly, they don't.
At this point, I have to get up and walk
the room in the dark until the shadow of me
is recognized in the recesses of the switch
plate. Once in a while I'll have a class
of high school kids writing essays,
and the lights will suddenly black out,
and they will all look up astonished
like they've really done something cool.

Grayson Books 2020 Poetry Chapbook Competition

Grayson Books Poetry Chapbook Competition

Deadline: January 31, 2020

  • Prize: $500, publication of chapbook and 50 gorgeous copies
  • Reading fee: $20
  • Submit: 16-32 pages of poetry
  • Electronic submissions only

Submit online here

Please do not include contact information on the manuscript itself; that should go only on the submission form. Simultaneous submissions are permissible if we are notified immediately upon acceptance elsewhere. Multiple submissions are also permitted; a fee must accompany each entry.

Including acknowledgments of previously published poems is acceptable but not required. When a manuscript is chosen for publication, we will request acknowledgments.

This year's judge, Christine Beck, is the author of three poetry collections as well as the recently published Beneath the Steps: A Writing Guide for 12-Step Recovery. She directs a series called Poets on Poetry, in which poets moderate discussions of well-known poets.

Learn more about Grayson Books by visiting our website. Last year's winner was Love's Test by Jed Myers. Please enjoy this sample poem:


Take last night—wasn't much to it—
two earthlings floating our dreams       
in one bed. Though it left us

plenty of proof. Didn't we shift
and touch under the dark's one cover,
shuffle our sleeps together

in the gusts of each other's breath,
then slip again deep
into singular drifts? I remember

your forehead against my neck, your arm
on my chest…. You kept
my knee a while between your thighs,

and I roused a little to the wind-
in-the-trees of your inhalations. No
more than this—all the proof

we'd need, to know, throughout
the rest of our lives, we had passed
love's test. And why

doesn't once convince us? As the night
lifted off to its dawn death,
it left us a certain scent—evidence

it had mixed our humors, stirred us
a oneness. Then the light scoured us
separate, our senses'

confluence lost. We showered
and dressed in our doubts—it suggests
we'd learned next to nothing.

2020 William Saroyan International Prize for Writing

William Saroyan Prize for Writing

Entries must be received by January 31, 2020

Submissions are now being accepted for the ninth William Saroyan International Prize for Writing. This award, given by Stanford University Libraries in partnership with the William Saroyan Foundation, recognizes newly published works of fiction and nonfiction with a $5,000 award for the winner in each category.

The prize is designed to encourage new or emerging writers and honor the Saroyan literary legacy of originality, vitality, and stylistic innovation. For entry forms and more information on the prize, visit the Saroyan Prize website.

Congratulations to our 2018 Fiction Winner Hernan Diaz, author of In the Distance, and our 2018 Nonfiction Winner Robert Moor, author of On Trails: An Exploration. See our complete list of 2018 winners and finalists.

LitSpace St. Petersburg Writers' Residency

LitSpace St. Petersburg Writers’ Residency

Application Deadline: February 1, 2020

The LitSpace St. Petersburg Writers' Residency invites applications from fiction writers, poets, playwrights, essayists, and memoirists. We hope to build a legacy as a residency that provides support for adventurous writers and fresh voices. We encourage applications from writers whose work is challenging and daring, as well as from underrepresented backgrounds.

The recipient of the residency fellowship will receive accommodations for two weeks at the Craftsman House on Central Avenue in St. Petersburg, Florida. A limited number of application fee waivers are available for writers under economic duress. Waiver requests must be received by December 15 (today!)

Our goals are to foster writers from around the country and world, enrich St. Petersburg's literary culture, and connect it to the broader literary world. Therefore, we invite applications from anywhere in the world. However, we can only read applications and writing samples in English, and provide the same financial support regardless of a fellow's travel expenses.

While a track record of publication will be a plus for applicants, we are eager to recognize and foster excellent writers with limited publication histories.

All decisions will be made and recipients notified by March 20. The residency is two weeks long, from May 3-17. There is slight flexibility on start and end dates.

See the complete guidelines and apply here.

"My experience as the LitSpace resident writer was inspiring on multiple levels: both creatively generative and restorative. From leading a classroom full of deeply engaged, motivated, and perceptive writers, to reading and making notes on an empty beach surrounded by sandpipers, to participating in a vibrant literary event bursting with grassroots energy, talent and a palpable sense of community, I was continuously stimulated and driven to create. St. Pete has a deeply unique resource in LitSpace: a community-driven, innovative network of literary events and projects, built on real human relationships and collaborations. It'll be tough to leave."
—Suzanne Rivecca, LitSpace Writing Resident 2019

The Stella Kupferberg Memorial Short Story Prize

The Stella Kupferberg Memorial Short Story Prize
Deadline: March 1, 2020

The Stella Kupferberg Memorial Short Story Prize is a writing competition sponsored by the stage and radio series Selected Shorts. The 2020 contest will be judged by author Nicole Chung. The winning work will be performed and recorded live at a Selected Shorts performance at Symphony Space on June 10, 2020, and published on Electric Literature. The winning writer will receive $1,000 and a free 10-week course with Gotham Writers.

The contest is now open and you may enter HERE.

On The Premises Short Story Contest (no fee)

On The Premises

OTP's short story contest #35 launches today. Its premise is "Multiples". One or more characters face a strange problem: There is supposed to be only one of something—but somehow, there is more than one! What's going on? That's what we want to find out, by reading your story.

Word limits: at least 1,000 words long, and no more than 5,000 words long.

DEADLINE: 11:59 PM Eastern Time, Friday, March 6, 2020

One entry per author. There is no fee for entering this contest. Winners receive between US$60 and US$220, and publication.

GENRE RULES: No children's fiction, no exploitative sex, no over-the-top grossout horror, and no stories that are obvious parodies of well-known fictional worlds/characters created by other authors.

Click for details and instructions on submitting your story.

To be informed when new contests are launched, subscribe to our free, short, monthly newsletter. On The Premises magazine is recognized in Duotrope, Writer's Market,, and other short story marketing resources.

An Incomplete List of My Wishes, stories by Jendi Reiter

An Incomplete List of My Wishes

  • 2017 Sunshot Book Prize for Fiction
  • 2019 Next Generation Indie Book Awards Finalist (LGBTQ Fiction)
  • 2018 Book Excellence Awards Finalist (LGBTQ Fiction)

"Jendi Reiter has created a humorous, imaginative, thoughtfully and beautifully written collection of short stories that was impossible to put down until the end—when I found myself wishing for more. A must read."
—Amazon 5-star review

Please enjoy this story from the collection. It was first published in Grimoire:

Memories of the Snow Queen

The story of the Snow Queen begins with a demon. An imp, we're corrected, because this is a story for, or at least about, children. Imps are for impulse, as A is for apple, as I is for ice. They're too young to try out the demon's repertoire of fiery touches, black silk stockings, suicide songs. The imp's craving is merely for mischief. He's a little boy who says No.

A demon, or an imp if you will, is a good reason to start a story. Something demands explanation, cause is sought and blame is found. The mirror on the wall, intact as an unwed princess, need not be discussed. The mirror on the floor, shattered into grit that sticks in the eye, arrowheads lodged in the arch of the foot, a splinter in the palm—this, now, demands someone else tell of a who and a why that the smashed reflector cannot disclose.

So the imp threw the looking-glass out of heaven, we're told, and a grain of the sand of its disintegration worked its way into the yard of a cottage where a boy and a girl were playing at being in love like two daffodils on the same stalk. Perhaps the unseen scratch made a bead of blood spring up on his fingertip and, without understanding, he felt their play spoiled and another old story begun in its place, the one about disobedience, sleep, and thorns. Perhaps he rubbed his eye with a dirty boy-fist and the garden looked darker, the leaves' desiccated future in embryo in their green, the chocolate soil seeded with mouse bones. And he became angry at the girl's cow eyes and her prattle like raindrops in a churchyard, even more when she wept at the new scowl on her dear playmate's face, as if a boy could do anything but bare his puppy teeth at a world where broken glass fell from the sky...

[story continues at Grimoire]

Buy An Incomplete List of My Wishes for $1.99 on Kindle.

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
Drinking Gourd Chapbook Poetry Prize. Emerging poets of color can win $350 and chapbook publication by Northwestern University Press for a poetry manuscript, 25-35 pages. Winner also receives 15 copies of their book and a featured reading at the Poetry Foundation in Chicago. Entrants must not have previously published a book-length volume of poetry. Due December 31.

Intermediate Writers
VCU Cabell First Novelist Award. Virginia Commonwealth University will award $5,000 for a first novel published in the US during the calendar year. Winner must attend an award event, which includes a public reading and other publicity opportunities. Due December 30.

Advanced Writers
Four Quartets Prize. The Poetry Society of America and the T.S. Eliot Foundation will award a top prize of $21,000 for a unified and complete sequence of poems, 14 pages minimum, published in the US in a print or online journal, chapbook, or book during the current year. Entrants do not need to be members of the Poetry Society of America. Self-published, multi-author, or translated works are ineligible. Due December 23.

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

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Award-Winning Poetry

This month, editor Jendi Reiter highlights poems from around the web that have won recent prizes.

by Dujie Tahat
Winner of a 2019 Poetry Society of America Chapbook Fellowship
Postmark Deadline: December 23
The venerable Poetry Society of America gives four annual awards for chapbook manuscripts by authors with no published full-length poetry books. Tahat won one of the two awards for authors aged 30 and under. This lyrical poem mourns the memories and traits that immigrants suppress to fit into their new country.

by Erica Bodwell
Winner of the 2018 Wilder Series Book Prize
Entries must be received by December 31
Two Sylvias Press sponsors this prize of $1,000 and publication for a full-length poetry manuscript by women over 50. Bodwell's Crown of Wild was the most recent winner. The title character of this tense prose poem "wants a witness" to an unspecified but pivotal experience that keeps her mind shuttling between past and present.

by Justin Phillip Reed
Winner of an Honor Book Award for Best Poetry in the 2019 Black Caucus of the American Library Association Literary Awards
Entries must be received by December 31
BCALA offers this prestigious free contest with $500 prizes for published books of poetry, fiction, and nonfiction by African-American authors that "offer outstanding depictions of the cultural, historical or sociopolitical aspects of the Black Diaspora." Reed's debut collection Indecency (Coffee House Press, 2018) was a runner-up. This complex poem voices the overweening pride of privileged masculinity while hinting at its tragic quality.

by Brandon Krieg
Winner of the 2019 Colorado Prize for Poetry
Entries must be received by January 14
This prestigious open poetry manuscript contest offers $2,000 and publication by the Center for Literary Publishing at Colorado State University. Krieg's Magnifier was the most recent winner. This wide-ranging poem of nature and technology plays on multiple meanings of the word "incorporate", expressing the conflict between a vision of one's self as part of the biosphere and industrial exploitation of natural resources.

by Dara Yen Elerath
Winner of the 2019 John Ciardi Prize for Poetry
Entries must be received by January 15
This competitive award from BkMk Press at the University of Missouri-Kansas City gives $1,000 and publication for a full-length poetry manuscript. Elerath's The Dark Braid was the most recent winner. In this quietly heartbreaking prose poem, the victim of a farming accident describes a strange new capacity for finding what is lost—and losing it again.

Read more award-winning poetry and prose.

"Overheard on a Saltmarsh", illustrated by Linda Dyer

Comic artist Julian Peters writes, "This beautiful visual rendition of Harold Monro's beautiful 1914 poem 'Overheard on a Saltmarsh' was created by Linda Dyer, a student in my Fall 2018 Drawing and Illustration class." It is reprinted here by graceful permission of Ms. Dyer and Mr. Peters. Starting in January, Mr. Peters will be teaching these two classes at the Visual Arts Centre in Montréal:

Overheard on a Saltmarsh

The Last Word

Jendi ReiterDECADE in Review: 2009-2019
Speaking only for myself here—you don't have to do anything medical to be a "real trans"!—bringing my subjective sense of masculinity into objective physical reality via HRT has felt like an act of magical manifestation. I grew up in a home dominated by gaslighting. Maintaining my inner truth against constant assaults was exhausting. Being trans sometimes feels that way, too. If my womanhood falls in the forest but everyone still calls me "Ma'am", does it make a sound? My little bottle of Love Potion Number 9 gel is something I can point to, a fact in the world, a self-affirming decision to be myself outwardly and not only in my fantasy life. It tells my younger psychological parts that we're finally safe to come out of the closet (and give away those uncomfortable high heels).

[read more]

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

One of the 101 Best Websites for Writers (Writer's Digest)