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11 Flash Fiction Contests That Are Free to Enter

You don't always have to pay to win. Here is a list of 11 flash fiction contests that you can enter without paying a dime.

You don't always have to pay to win. Here is a list of 11 flash fiction contests that you can enter without paying a dime.

To Pay or Not to Pay?

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 held in June every 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—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 living 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 submissions 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.

What Is 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 contest defines 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.

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).

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).

1. Shady Grove Literary

Shady Grove Literary (SGL) runs a quarterly competition with deadlines on the last day of March, June, September, and December. Submitted pieces must be limited to 300 words and under, with one submission allowed per author per contest. Submissions must be previously unpublished, but simultaneous submissions are allowed. Any style, tone, genre, or subject of flash fiction is welcome.

Stories are submitted through email directly to the magazine and pasted in the body of the email. Brief bios are also required, which will be published alongside the winning stories. Prizes include $100 for first place and publication for second and third places. There is an unspecified number of honorable mentions listed in the publication with the story titles and authors. New in 2018, the SGL inaugural competition was held in June of that year, with the winner announced in July. Winners are informed within a month of the deadline, and winning entries are published shortly afterward.

2. Gotham Writers Very Short Story Contest

As the story goes, Ernest Hemingway won a bet by writing a short story that was less than 10 words. Actually, it was six words, and it managed to build and pull a ton of emotion. The folks at Gotham Writers challenge you to do the same thing. Write a great piece of flash fiction that is ten words or less. If your piece wins, you get a free Gotham class. The rules for the contest are as follows:

  • Only online entries will be accepted.
  • You can only submit one story.
  • Entry must consist of no more than 10 words. While titles are allowed, they go into the word count.
  • Your entry must be unpublished.
  • Entries will be judged on originality, quality, as well as spelling, and grammar, so make sure to proofread your entry carefully.
  • The winning entry will be posted at
  • The winner will be notified no later than June 14, 2018.

Entries must be submitted online by the deadline, which is at 11:59 PM Eastern Time on May 14 (check the site to confirm this year's due date). Examples of stories they've liked are provided on the website.

3. Reedsy

This competition is based on a response to a prompt. The difference between this contest and others is that you can choose which one you'd like to use from a list of prompts sent to your inbox every Friday. Winners receive $50 and publication. The site is a publishing community of writing-related professionals who are also available for hire, including editors, designers, publicists, ghostwriters, marketers, and web designers. The site offers free online courses and publishing webinars, a blog with writing advice, a list of the year's best literary magazines, book reviews, book promotions, short story ideas, writing exercises, and a search function for writing competitions which can be filtered by genre and other identifiers. In addition to the flash fiction contest, Reedsy is a great resource for all types of writers.

4. The Third Word Press

This competition is a wonderful one for those who want to write short flash fiction while helping the homeless. The competition calls for 'drabble' or pieces that are exactly eighty words long. The winning entries are published in anthologies that are given to the homeless to sell to receive a small income.

New authors are showcased next to established writers, so winners receive broad exposure. Submissions can be part of a longer work, a complete story with a beginning, middle, and end, or just a single scene. The organizers state they are more interested in what the author does with the writing than the exact form it takes.

There is no limit on how many stories you can submit for each competition. The deadlines for story submission are the second and fourth Mondays of each month, and winners are notified a week later. Winners receive £20, and the stories are published on the website as well as in the anthology.

Winners are also encouraged to join the organization's fundraising initiative by promoting the anthology. Each anthology sold online will subsidies the printing of three anthologies that are donated to the homeless to sell. The competition is an international one, so authors outside Great Britain can also enter.

Make sure to read and adhere to all guidelines and instructions.

Make sure to read and adhere to all guidelines and instructions.

5. 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 that 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 the future, they hope to collaborate with a professional illustrator to judge entries and provide a cash prize.

6. Alsina Publishing

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.

7. 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 the first, second and third prizes respectively. There is an archive of winning stories.

8. Didcot Monthly Writing Challenge

This themed contest calls for submissions of 500 words in response to a monthly prompt. They allow prose, script, or poetry, both fiction and non-fiction, as submissions. This is one of the only flash fiction competitions that will allow you to enter either a complete story or an extract of a longer work. This challenge is part of a larger writing community in which you can become involved. You are able to offer to become the reader (judge) for the next competition, and they encourage you to suggest a theme if you have a piece that doesn't fit the current month's prompt. They accept entries from around the world, provided they are written in English.

If you live in Oxfordshire County, you might want to become involved in the Didcot Writers Group. This is a group of people local to Didcot, England, who meet weekly to discuss their creative writing projects, recommend books and other reading material, and share writing tips and competition links. They hold workshops once a month and have a writing meetup once a week. On the fourth Tuesday of each month, they hold a live lit event where the writers' works are performed and discussed.

9. 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 accepts 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.

10. Writers in Oxford

Writers in Oxford is Oxford’s society for published authors ages 18 to 30 years old. 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:

  • author talks,
  • outings and walks,
  • newsletter,
  • directory of members, and
  • several yearly parties.

11. Sweek Monthly Flash Fiction Contest

Sweek is a site that includes a writing community that sponsors numerous free contests throughout the year with prizes. Some of the contests offer a publishing contract to winners.

The monthly Microfiction Contest is on a theme presented at the beginning of each month. In some cases, the prompt must be included in the story, while in others, the story just has to be about the theme in some way. They encourage unusual interpretations of the prompts. Stories can be in any genre or a combination of genres.

Monthly winners include "Editors' Choice" and "Most Popular," which are based on the number of likes a story gets. Submissions are limited to 250 words, and multiple submissions are allowed. Submissions are accepted from all over the world, and you can enter in 10 different languages. You can also upload a cover for each of your stories.

Hand in hand with this contest is a feedback contest where you provide feedback to one or more of the entries. You can comment on as many stories as you like, with each one being considered a separate entry. The best feedback, as judged by the Editors and three additional panel members, wins.

Both of these monthly contests have $50 awards for winners. There is also a shortlist that is announced with winners, and while they do not win a cash award, their pieces are published along with the winners in a quarterly volume of microfiction.

Sweek also has a number of other competitions, including contests for fan fiction, romance, and diversity-related fiction, among others. The platform also provides an outlet for people to post stories of all kinds and all lengths, with feedback offered by the community.

© 2017 Natalie Frank


Sarah Richards on February 22, 2020:

I appreciate the list, but links would've been extremely helpful.

Natalie Frank (author) from Chicago, IL on March 21, 2018:

Thanks for the comment and for stopping by.

CBLindgreen on January 08, 2018:

very helpful. thanks! sharing with my writing group, if that's okay with you!

gyanendra mocktan from Kathmandu,Nepal on December 13, 2017:

I will be reading your articles whenever I am here on this earth.Thank you

Natalie Frank (author) from Chicago, IL on December 11, 2017:

Linda - Happy the article was useful to you. Thanks for stopping by.

Natalie Frank (author) from Chicago, IL on December 11, 2017:

gyanendra mocktan - Thank you for your comment. I am so pleased to know that you found the article useful and motivating. All the best in your writing endeavors. I hope to have you as a reader for a long time to come.

gyanendra mocktan from Kathmandu,Nepal on December 09, 2017:

Natalie, I have no words to describe about how I feel about my self after reading your article. This aritlce motivates to write about what's happening around me in the real world and when I am alone I am not able to write. Thank you.

Natalie Frank (author) from Chicago, IL on December 08, 2017:

Nikki- glad you enjoyed it. Getting together with other writers is, I find, one of the best things for keeping me motivated and writing. Good luck with all your endeavors and thanks for stopping by!

Natalie Frank (author) from Chicago, IL on December 08, 2017:

Kari - you might want to give it a try. It may seem easy but putting together an entire story in 53 words or so is not so simple. I've had stories that I wrote that I thought were pretty good until I went back and read them after a week or so. All I could say was, " What was I thinking?" Lots of times I would read something I wrote and realize the reader would have no clue what I was trying to get at. Good luck with it and thanks for stopping by.

Natalie Frank (author) from Chicago, IL on December 08, 2017:

Bill- thanks for the comment and keeping up with what I write. It's amazing how you write consistently and manage to read other hubbers work and make comments. You're an inspiration to us all.

Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on December 07, 2017:

Thank you for sharing the information, Natalie. It's very useful.

Natalie Frank (author) from Chicago, IL on December 07, 2017:

Gyanendra Mocktan - Thank you for your comment. I am glad you found the article useful. Good luck in a your writing endeavors. Please stop in again.

Nikki Khan from London on December 07, 2017:

Very interesting hub Natalie regarding flash fiction, got to know more about it,I like the idea of writers talking and meeting to explore more on writing.Thanks for sharing.

Kari Poulsen from Ohio on December 05, 2017:

I have never tried flash fiction, although I do enjoy reading it. The 53 word competition intrigues me, lol.

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on December 05, 2017:

Nice resource, Natalie! Thank you! I wish I had the time to enter contests, but I took a different path with my writing efforts.

gyanendra mocktan from Kathmandu,Nepal on December 05, 2017:

Natalie Frank, Thank you for your article on Flash Fiction. Your information is valuable to me and all aspiring writiers/ Thank you again/