Fee-Free Writing Contests, Grants, And More! By Erika Dreifus

Excerpted from:
FREE EXPRESSION: 101 Fee-Free Contests, Competitions, and Other Opportunities for Resourceful Writers!

“What do you all think about contests?” one of my colleagues asked our online writing group. “Do you think you get a better read when you actually pay a reading/entry fee?” No one responded to that query (publicly, at any rate).

Although I’ve entered many literary competitions, my colleague’s question is not one I can answer, either. I’ve never administered or judged a contest, and frankly, there are just too many competitions out there for anyone to issue any generalizations about their inner workings. There are, however, some wonderfully useful articles in print and on the web that offer a variety of individual ideas about what prospective entrants might consider in evaluating potential competitions and preparing to submit work. You’ll find some of these listed within the references included near the end of my book, FREE EXPRESSION: 101 Fee-Free Contests, Competitions, and Other Opportunities for Resourceful Writers.

What I can tell you is that I’ve discovered many benefits that came with participation in writing competitions even when my work didn’t “win.” I’ve found some truly remarkable writing in the journal subscriptions that have accompanied some of those fees, for instance. In one case I was asked to participate in a public reading of my story – that possibility hadn’t even been publicized in the contest guidelines. In other situations contest submissions have led to correspondence with other writers, and other assignments from editors.

But I think that my colleague’s question about the reading fees itself unwittingly overlooks a crucial point: many contests that lead to publication – and similar opportunities for writers such as grants, fellowships, residencies, and retreats – don’t require “reading” or “entry” or “processing” fees at all. Some writers believe they shouldn’t have to pay such fees. Some just can’t afford them. And still others perhaps simply prefer knowing that the “fee-free” option exists.

The first literary contest I won – a short story competition – was one of these fee-free competitions. (In fact, the year I won it was the second year I’d entered it – the fee-free contest can easily become a habit!) The success encouraged me to seek out additional opportunities, and to let others know about them as well.

Soon I was finding so much information about prizes and grants and fellowships – and telling so many people about them – that it just seemed to make sense to compile everything in one place. It wasn’t very long before I found I had so much material there was enough, literally, for a book.

So what will you find in Free Expression? You’ll find contests and competitions – that don’t charge reading, entry, or other administrative fees – that lead to publication of novels, short story collections, poetry collections, books of nonfiction (“creative” and “scholarly”), and children’s literature. You’ll find grants to help facilitate development of new work, completion of work-in-progress, and other professional opportunities. You’ll find fellowships that will offer you time and space in artistic communities, at residencies and retreats, conferences and colonies. You’ll find opportunities for student writers, undergraduate and graduate. And you’ll even find a few places to turn in cases of financial emergency.

But if you still haven’t found enough, that final reference chapter of Free Expression points you to additional sources for information on opportunities for writers that I hope will prove helpful in the future. In the appendices there’s even space to jot down a few thoughts, plans, and projects you might wish to pursue right away.

There are some things you won’t find in the pages of my book. For instance, you won’t find competitions that require you to be a fee-paying member of an organization before allowing you to participate. You won’t find awards offered by journals and reviews – for the best poem or story the journal has published in a given year. In fact, you won’t, in general, find competitions or award programs intended specifically to recognize previously published work. Supporting new work (and quite often, new writers) is the main point here, which is why research and other opportunity grants feature so prominently, too.

Virtually every competition offers a cash award. Many also offer publication. Two exceptions I could not resist including – the Faux Faulkner and Imitation Hemingway contests, which feature impressive travel packages and publication in an international magazine, United Airlines’ Hemispheres, for their winners. I’ve exercised authorial license here!

In the end, you may still choose to check out the costlier competitions. But at least now you’ll have some choices as you seek to express yourself – in print.

Fee-free listings in the book are categorized by:

  • Fiction
  • Poetry
  • Non-fiction
  • Plays
  • Children’s Literature
  • Multiple/Alternating Genres
  • Residents and Retreats, Conferences and Colonies
  • Student Opportunities (Undergraduate and Graduate)
  • And Emergency Funding


David Dornstein Memorial Creative Writing Contest for Young Adult Writers
Coalition for the Advancement of Jewish Education
261 W. 35th Street, Fl. 12A
New York, NY 10001
Tel. 212.268.4210

Open to writers between the ages of 18 and 35, this contest welcomes unpublished short stories of up to 5,000 words on “a Jewish theme or topic.” It honors David Dornstein, who was a CAJE Conference Assistant killed in the December 1988 Pan Am plane that crashed in Lockerbie, Scotland. Awards include cash prizes and publication in Jewish Education News. If three winning stories are selected, prize money is divided $700/$200/$100; if two stories win, money is divided $750/$250. No identifying information beyond the story title should appear on the manuscript, but a cover sheet with the author’s name, address, phone number and story title is required. Entrants must also include a copy of a driver’s license or other document to prove age, and a signed statement attesting that the story has never been published.

Andres Montoya Poetry Prize
Francisco Aragón, Coordinator
Institute for Latino Studies
230 McKenna Hall
University of Notre Dame
Notre Dame, IN 46556
Tel. 574.631.2882
faragon (at) nd.edu

Co-sponsored by the Institute for Latino Studies and the Creative Writing Program at the University of Notre Dame, this competition is open to any Latino/a poet “who has yet to publish a full-length book of poems.” Awards a $1000 prize and publication by University of Notre Dame Press. Call or write for further information.

Good luck with your writing, and of course, with your Free Expression!

Erika Dreifus (Ed.M., Ph.D., Harvard University; M.F.A. Queens University of Charlotte, NC) contributes frequently to print and online publications on the craft and business of writing. She has won numerous grants, fellowships, and awards, including residencies at the Kimmel Harding Nelson Center for the Arts and the Vermont Studio Center.

This article may be freely reprinted/redistributed as long as the entire article and bio are included.