The Best Literary Competitions For Young Writers
by Charlotte Ahlin

We all know that being a writer is a glamorous and well-paid job (just kidding, it's not). But even the most successful authors were once pretentious young people trying to break into the literary scene. If you're young, scrappy, hungry, and passionate about writing, you might want to consider entering a writing contest. You can hone your skills, get used to sharing your work, and maybe even win several thousand dollars in the process. Here are a few of the best literary competitions for every young writer to enter.

If you're a teen with an unpublished novel, a college grad with a blog full of political essays, or just a young-ish person with a keyboard and a dream, there's a contest out there for you. I mean, sure, writing manuscripts and sending them off into the night is all well and good, but submitting to a contest is usually a guarantee that someone, somewhere, will at the least read what you wrote. And best case scenario, you walk away as a published author with a bundle of cash.

Even if you don't win every competition you enter, learning to love rejection is just part of the exciting and fast-paced life of a professional writer. So check out these literary competitions that are perfect for budding authors:


The Scholastic Art & Writing Awards

For the literary (or artsy!) high school set, you can't do better than the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards. With categories for everything from fiction to jewelry-making to political cartoons, the Art & Writing Awards are a great way to put your work out there. There's a regional and a national level to the prizes, so thousands of talented young folks get recognized for their craft every year. National award recipients also get invited to a fancy ceremony with free writing workshops, and there are dozens of scholarships available for select winners.


The Young Lions Fiction Award

The New York Public Library hosts the Young Lions Fiction Award contest, open to any citizen of the U.S. under 35 years old. They only accept novels and short story collections aimed at adults, and your piece must be published before it's submitted (time to brush up on your self publishing knowledge!), but the prize is $10,000 and a whole lot of prestige. So it feels pretty worth it.


The New Voices Award Writing Contest

If you're an unpublished author of color who wants to write for children, this is the contest for you! Dedicated to diverse authors and stories in children's literature, the New Voices Award accepts unpublished manuscripts for kids' books. First place is a prize of $1000, plus professional publication!


The Kindle Scout Writing Competition

Writing contests are great, but you're usually leaving your fate in the hands of a small panel of judges. If you'd rather have your writing judged by everyday readers, then submit your unpublished manuscript to Kindle Scout. Readers will vote for your book over the course of a month, and if you get enough votes, you'll be published by Kindle Press!


The Writers of the Future Contest

Yes, this contest was founded by L. Ron Hubbard and yes, he's a...controversial figure. But hey—there's no entry fee, the judges are always well-known authors, and the grand prize is $5,000, with smaller awards every three months. The Writers of the Future competition is open to all unpublished authors with prose pieces up to 17,000 words in length, with a bent towards the science fictional.


The Graywolf Press Nonfiction Prize

The Graywolf Press Nonfiction Prize only runs every other year, but the prize is a hefty $12,000 advance, plus publication by Graywolf. This competition is also for manuscripts in progress by emerging writers, so you you don't have to submit a fully polished book. They accept all forms of nonfiction, including longform journalism and memoir. But the more innovative your work, the more likely you are to win.


Real Simple’s Life Lessons Essay Contest

Look, we don't always have time to churn out full length novels for every contest that comes our way. But one essay for $3000 sounds pretty alright. Real Simple's Life Lessons Essay Contest is an annual competition for personal essays on varying themes, with a $3000 award for first place (plus publication in the magazine!).


The Writer’s Digest Annual Writing Competition

The Writer's Digest Annual Writing Competition has been going strong for over 80 years now, so you couldn't ask for a more classic writing competition to start with. There are multiple categories and multiple prizes, with $5,000 cash for one lucky winner and meetings with four different editors and agents. Even if you miss the annual deadline, Writer's Digest often runs smaller contests throughout the year.