Eleven 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 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.
To Pay or Not to Pay?
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 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
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 is 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, 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 which are listed in the publication with the story titles and authors. New in 2018, the SGL inaugural competition was held in June 2018 with the winner announced in July. Winners are informed within a month of the deadline and winning entries are published shortly afterwards.
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 ten words. Actually, it was six words, managed to build and pull for 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 GothamWriters.com.
- 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 May 14 (check the site to confirm this year's due date). Examples of stories they've liked are provided on the website.
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 years 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 3 anthologies that are donated to the homeless to sell. The competition is an international one so authors outside Great Britain can also enter.
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 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.
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 first, second and third prize 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 writer's work is 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 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.
10. Writers in Oxford
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
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 is 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.
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© 2017 Natalie Frank