Have a Way With Words? These 6 Writing Contests Pay at Least $500

Writing contests
lechatnoir / Getty Images
Some of the links in this post are from our sponsors. We provide you with accurate, reliable information. Learn more about how we make money and select our advertising partners.

As one of those who got her degree in English, the fact that I can write stories to earn extra money makes my heart swell with joy.

If you’re of the writing breed, you probably keep a small notebook on hand to scratch down story ideas. Or maybe, like me, you become impulsively entwined in writing the premise of an essay in your phone’s notes.

Placing my thoughts on paper like that and giving them a chance to breathe is rewarding. But what’s even more rewarding? Money.

Writing competitions offer writers a way to share their work and pocket some cash. Calls for writing vary — from horror writing to speculative fiction to comedy sketches to poetry — so you’ll likely find a competition that caters to your interests and expertise.

The contests with the larger prizes (think: $3,000) typically have entry fees, which can add up when you’re on writing binges. However, plenty of legitimate contests require no entry fee and offer substantial cash prizes.

To get you started on the *write* track, we found six writing contests currently accepting submissions with no entry fees. Even better? These contests reward the winner with more than $500 — often $1,000 or more.

6 Writing Contests with No Entry Fees and Substantial Cash Prizes

If you have some stories hiding in your computer files or tucked away in lost journals, pull those suckers out and polish ’em up. If not, start brainstorming and giving life to your ideas. Then, click “submit” for a chance at some extra spending money.

1. Princemere Poetry Prize 2016

The Princemere Journal needs submissions for its publication, but this is better than freelancing (see: the prize money).

There’s no rhyme or reason to the submissions for this contest (unless you write a rhyming poem, of course). You can submit up to three poems for publication consideration — even if they’ve already been published — though you’ll want to provide a disclaimer for those pieces.

Follow the rules: Don’t write your name on your work, and include a cover letter or title page. Other than that, let your poetic juices flow.

Prize: $500

Deadline: Sept. 12

2. Real Simple’s Life Lessons Essay Contest 2016

Confession: I love Real Simple; it often racks up my grocery bill. And I love these Life Lessons essays. They’re so real.

The good news is this contest occurs twice a year, and the deadline for 2016’s second submission is coming up.

This year’s theme is about dramatic change. The rubric asks:

Maybe you had to move cross-country after being relocated for a job, opening up new possibilities along with fears. Or maybe you needed to sell your house or leave an apartment before you expected to. How did that situation influence the rest of your life?

Be sure to take a close look at the submission criteria. It’ll probably throw you back to high school writing assignments: Double space, 1,500-word limit, Microsoft Word doc. Plus: You must be a U.S. resident and at least 19 at the time of submission.

Prize: First place receives $3,000, second place receives $750 and third place receives $500.

Deadline: Sept. 19 (But be sure to to keep an eye out for other, future deadlines as this is a biannual contest.)

3. Web of Life Foundation Essay Competition

This non-profit (WOLF) aims to break society out of its conventional thinking and to “unleash the imagination.” Cue a writing competition.

This year’s theme is, appropriately, “connecting politics with people.” Take that as you will, and run with your ideas. You can write, in English, an essay, short story, factual commentary or fiction. “Just make it compelling,” the foundation urges.

Individuals may submit up to three entries. These entries should be less than 2,000 words and non-technical (no footnotes or citations, you scholars).

Prize: First place receives $1,500 cash, and second place receives $500.

Deadline: Sept. 30

4. PEN/Robert J. Dau Short Story Prize for Emerging Writers

Check out the prize money on this one.

This contest recognizes 12 — yes, 12 — emerging fiction writers for their debut into the literary world via a literary magazine or cultural website. The idea? Help them jump start a successful career.

However, there are strict guidelines, so be sure to read the fine print.

We’ll get you started: Your editor from an eligible publication must submit the work — not you. Those eligible publications include online and print U.S. magazines and cultural websites. It must be the author’s debut story — so the first short story publication. These can be up to 12,000 words.

Think you might qualify?

Prize: $2,000 to 12 writers

Deadline: Nov. 11

5. Dapim: Studies on the Holocaust Article Prize Competition 2016

This academic journal is devoted to everything Holocaust. If you’re a historian and this stuff fascinates you, this could be a great opportunity to get published and win a substantial monetary prize.

Topics may range from Nazi propaganda to war crime trials to the tragedy’s aftermath. This competition naturally allows for footnotes and encourages graduate students and scholars to apply. If you have a lot to say on the subject, that’s fine because submissions can be up to 10,000 words.

Prize: $1,000

Deadline: Dec. 31

6. ‘Philosophy Through Fiction’ Short Story Competition

You’ve got some time to think on this one, but I wanted to include it because, well, philosophical stuff sends me in spirals and extra brain time is appreciated.

Your job for this competition is to tell a story laced with philosophical thinking. Embrace your inner Jean-Paul Sartre.

You may submit a short story of any genre — science fiction, horror, alternative history, etc. Submissions should be 1,000-7,500 words and can come from anyone, not just the Platos of our generation.

Include a “Food for Thought” section, not unlike a cover letter, which explains the ideas in your piece. Be sure to read more submission specifics before entering.

Prize: $500

Deadline: Feb. 17, 2017

For more writing competitions with no entry fees but apt profits, check out Write Jobs. You’ll find a competition for any type of writing, including one titled “All Trumped Up.”

Your Turn: What are you going to write about?

Carson Kohler (@CarsonKohler) is a junior writer at The Penny Hoarder. After recently completing graduate school, she focuses on saving money — and surviving the move back in with her parents. She plans to start entering writing competitions if she’ll ever sit down and focus long enough.