Five Flash Fiction Contests That Are Free to Enter
I’ve been asked by several writers in my writing group how I decide where to submit my work, especially for contests and how much I’m willing to pay to do so. In honor of National Flash Fiction Day, which is on June 24th this year, I have decided to put together a list of some of the free flash-fiction contests that are open to all levels of writers.
My reply to the question about paying to submit, which is only my opinion (and there are others who will tell you differently,) is that I don’t submit to journals, contests or anthologies that require you to pay to enter. If I had the talent of Stephen King, Neil Gaiman or Margaret Atwood, I might be willing to pay since the odds would be in my favor. Of course, writers like these don’t have to pay to get their work into journals or to win contests, so I’m willing to bet none of them would willingly pay either.
That being said, most of us are not as successful as the type of authors mentioned above, and when we want to make a life out of writing, money can get short. I understand the need to charge a small fee to cover expenses associated with the contest and possibly help build the award money. Still, I just won’t pay to get someone to glance at my work and decide in seconds whether it has hooked them enough to keep on reading or whether it goes directly to the trash folder.
There are tens of thousands of writing contests out there and a number of them call for Flash Fiction, (aka Microfiction, nano-fiction, short, short fiction, sudden fiction) You can look up the terms I list here to see if some of the paying contests fit your work. For the purposes of this article I will only list free Flash Fiction contests. Word count will vary according to each publisher. Make sure to read and adhere to all guidelines and instructions. Many submission are thrown out just because they aren’t formatted properly or don’t follow instructions. If the competition calls for 500 words, don’t give them 800 and hope that “they’ll see it can’t be cut and take it anyway.” If the limit is 500 they won’t take it. If you are Stephen King they might be willing to work with you. But for most of the rest of us, the rules are firm.
Key Points About Flash Fiction
According to the Oxford Dictionary (2017), Flash FIction is defined as “Fiction that is extremely brief, typically only a few hundred words or fewer in its entirety.” This definition is a bit vague but truth be told, every publication and contests define the term and word length differently. Some may want work as brief as 50 words while others may go as high as 1000.
What all forms of flash fiction have in common, is that they must still tell a story with a plot and characters that interests the reader. One scene pulled from a story, novella or novel does not flash fiction make. These should be stand alone stories written with the word count in mind. While you can always edit should you go over, it is not the best practice to produce a story significantly longer than what is asked for as when traditional length short stories are edited into flash fiction, often important details are removed leaving the story incomplete. Flash fiction is not a scene or section from a longer piece since all the elements of a story must be incorporated, including setting, character development, plot, conflict, and resolution.
In the really short forms of flash fiction, it is extremely difficult to address all these elements but you must do so nonetheless, if not directly then through the characters nonverbal communication. Another technique of flash fiction is essentially having the characters gesture in order to provide a glimmer of something they aren’t saying. I won’t go into craft here but there are a number of excellent articles on technique and writing Flash Fiction
Ad Hoc Fiction - This weekly competition is for pieces of 150 words or less in any style and genre. Winners receive a free entry into the Bath Flash Fiction Award Competition (normally £9) which has a £1000 first prize for a 300 word piece along with several other cash prizes. The editor chooses stories to publish on the website after which the public votes on the entries to determine the winners of the cash prizes.
There is usually a word prompt which must be included in each story. Stories may also be included in an anthology at some point in the future. While this is a tough competition to win, as your work may be published on the website and in an anthology you have the chance to gain valuable exposure even if you don’t win. A list of previous winning stories is available so you can see what types of stories have won in the past.
There is also an opportunity to illustrate winning stories. While there is no cash prize currently for these, they will credit your work and link to your social media or website. In future they hope to collaborate with a professional illustrator to judge entries and provide a cash prize.
Alsina Publishing focuses on excellence in publishing and technology and the love of languages. They strive to help those learning languages around the globe through access to high quality short stories. Alsina has a number of different flash fiction contests each year. Typically they call for 400 to 1200 words. Contests pay different amounts.
Previous flash fiction contest themes include romance, crime fiction, and the Super Simple Short Story Challenge. You can sign up with your email to be notified whenever there are new contests. In addition to the benefits that the press provides to language learners, authors can reach large audiences that they wouldn’t have been able to beforehand. You can also submit flash fiction stories year round for consideration and published stories receive royalties.
Brilliant Flash Fiction Competition - This competition occurs four times a year with deadlines on January 15, March 15, June 15, and September 15. Stories must be written based on a prompt which may be verbal or visual such as a picture or painting. The word limit is 300 words. There are three cash prizes of 50 euro, 25 euro and 15 euro for first, second and third prize respectively. There is an archive of winning stories.
53 Word Story Competition - This competition is monthly and entries must be exactly 53 words, no more no less. The winner gets published in Prime Number Magazine and receives a free book from Press 53. Each month there is a different prompt to which each story must relate, Stories are due on the last day of each month. Prime Number Magazine also accept general submissions for poetry and short fiction year round with no reading fee. Issues are published quarterly in January April, July and October and the authors of accepted work living in the U.S. will receive a copy of the guest editor's book published by Press 53. All past issues with winning stories are archived on the site and can be accessed for free.
Writers in Oxford is Oxford’s society for published authors ages 18-30. Writers in Oxford provides opportunities for writers to meet, talk about issues of interest, and participate in a variety of literary and other activities. They hold an annual flash fiction competition with the call for submissions stating the work should be ‘Inspired by Oxford.’ The submission can be ﬁction or non-ﬁction. Entrants must live in the Oxford area. The piece can not exceed 500 words and cannot be previously published.
There are ﬁve cash prizes: two prizes of £350 and three prizes of £100. In addition, the five prize winners and 25 other winners will receive a two year honorary membership into WIO. The deadline is September 1 for each year. Along with the flash fiction Competition, WIO has other activities and services available to writers in the area including:
Outings and walks
Directory of members
Several yearly parties