Listed below are a number of writing competition based in the UK. Entering short story and poetry competitions can be a good way to get your work noticed, and may help when it comes time to approach editors about publishing a book. Book prizes, meanwhile, can boost sales, especially for debut authors; you’ll notice that several of the prizes below are for first books or first collections.
Some (indeed, most) competitions charge an entry or “reading” fee. Is is their nature that every entrant pays, but only a few are rewarded. It’s worth looking at the costs involved and weighing them against the potential benefits before you decide that entering competitions is the right move for you.
It can be discouraging too that only a few winners emerge from all the entries submitted. Some competitions draw up longlists and shortlists before deciding on the final winners, and appearing on one of these can be valuable even if you don’t win outright.
The awards and prizes listed here are all based in the UK, but many can be entered by writers from abroad as well. If you know of any that I’ve missed, please get in touch and let me know. Also you may wish to consider taking a look at Neon‘s calendar of literary events and deadlines – you’ll find the closing dates of many of the competitions below marked out there.
Top Prize: £2500 | Categories: Novel | Deadline: Unknown
Awarded to the most promising novel issued by a British publisher in the previous year. This prize is administered by the Authors’ Club. “From its inception in 1954, the award has gone to writers who have subsequently enjoyed distinguished careers, including Brian Moore for The Lonely Passion Of Judith Hearne, Alan Sillitoe for Saturday Night And Sunday Morning and Paul Bailey for At the Jerusalem.”
Top Prize: €10000 | Categories: Poem | Deadline: December
This international prize is open to everyone, and awards large sums for the three best unpublished poem submitted each year. It is run by The Moth Magazine, with winners published in the magazine and invited to special prize-giving event at the Ballymaloe Literary Festival Of Food And Wine.
Top Prize: £500 | Categories: Short Story / Poem / Flash | Deadline: Unknown
A yearly set of competitions administered by the literary magazine Bare Fiction. There are prizes in each category, and the winners are published in an issue of the magazine. Different guest judges are bought in each year to pick the winners.
Top Prize: £1000 | Categories: Short Story | Deadline: May
An international competition that welcomes stories of up to 2200 words on any theme or subject from published or unpublished writers. The prizes available are £1000 for 1st place, £200 for 2nd place, and £100 for 3rd place, as well as a local prize and a special award for the best story by an unpublished writer.
Top Prize: £15000 | Categories: Short Story | Deadline: March
One of the most significant short story competitions in the UK, this prize is awarded yearly by the BBC. Entrants must have a record of previously published work in the UK. “The ambition of both the Award and Booktrust’s short story content is to expand opportunities for British writers, readers and publishers of the short story.”
Top Prize: Up to £20000 | Categories: Novel | Deadline: Rolling
Given to writers under the age of thirty-five, for a first novel in the traditional or romantic genres. The prize varies year by year, and must be used for foriegn travel. “Betty Trask left a bequest to the Society of Authors in 1983 to fund a prize for first novels written by authors under the age of thirty-five in a romantic or traditional, but not experimental, style.”
Top Prize: £5000 | Categories: Short Story / Flash / Poem | Deadline: May
A prestigous annual competition with different strands for short stories, flash fiction and poetry. As well as the first place prize money there are several supplementary awards, including one for writers based in Dorset.
Top Prize: £1000 | Categories: Short Story | Deadline: May
An international short story competition opened to published and unpublished writers anywhere in the world. Winners are published in an annual anthology in addition to receiving prize money. “The Bristol Short Story Prize aims to publish great short stories and promote the stories and writers as much as possible.”
Top Prize: Publication | Categories: Novel | Deadline: December
This energetic children’s publisher runs a yearly competition for new writers. Manuscripts must be aimed at the 7-18 age range, and should be sent in full. The competition is sponsored by The Times newspaper.
Top Prize: £1000 | Categories: Novel / Short Story / Poem / Collection | Deadline: Varies
This small, independent publisher based in Wales runs yearly competitions to find work in a variety of different genres worth publishing. Most competitions are restricted to previously-unpublished writers, and require payment of an entry fee.
Top Prize: £10000 | Categories: Novel / Short Story | Deadline: Unknown
Two competitions run by Commonwealth Writers, designed to reward and promote the best new writing from across the Commonwealth. There is an award for short stories and a separate award for books. In addition to the top prize in each category, further regional prizes are also awarded.
Top Prize: £30000 | Categories: Novel / Short Story | Deadline: July
A series of book and short story awards for authors from the UK and Ireland (previously known as the Whitbread Book Awards). One of the only UK awards open to children’s books as well as adult. The short story strand is narrowed down by judges and then decided by a popular vote.
Top Prize: £24000 | Categories: Collection | Deadline: March
This annual award for poets under the age of thirty has prize money totalling £24000, which is split among the recipients. It is given for submitted poetry collections either published or unpublished. “The Eric Gregory Awards, for a collection by poets under the age of 30, were founded in 1960 by the late Dr Eric Gregory for the encouragement of young poets.”
Top Prize: £10000 | Categories: Second Novel | Deadline: November
A £10000 prize – sponsored by Lucy Astor – for the best second novel published in the UK. “The award fills a niche in the catalogue of literary prizes by celebrating the achievement of outstanding second novels, often neglected in comparison to the attention given to promising first books.”
Top Prize: £3000 | Categories: Short Story / Flash / Poem / Memoir | Deadline: Varies
These yearly competitions have been run by Fish Publishing since 1994. They are open to writers of any nationality writing in English. The best ten pieces in each category are published in an anthology. Entry fees for each category are significant, and there is a paid critique service available.
Top Prize: £10000 | Categories: Collection / First Collection / Poem | Deadline: Unknown
The largest annual poetry competition in the UK, this prize rewards the best collection, best first collection, and best single poem in the UK each year. All works put forward for the prize will also be considered for publication in The Forward Book Of Poetry, a yearly anthology. Entries must be published works, and individual poets cannot enter their own work.
Top Prize: £10000 | Categories: Novel / Book | Deadline: N/A
Seeks to reward authors of imaginative literature. One of Britain’s oldest literary prizes, it is awarded annually, though there have been some years without an award in the past. “There is no competition; books do not have to be, and in fact cannot be, submitted. A panel of judges decides the winner.”
Top Prize: Publication | Categories: Novel | Deadline: July
The prize was created to discover and publish new writing talent. Entries to the prize are assessed by the Impress team each year and a shortlist produced from which a panel chooses the winner. The winner of the prize is offered a publishing contract with Impress books with the aim of publishing the book in the year following the award.
Top Prize: £10000 | Categories: Book / Drama | Deadline: December / January
Awarded to the author of a work of fiction, biography or drama published in Britain during the past year. One of the most established prizes in the UK. “They are the only awards of their kind to be presented by a university and have acquired an international reputation for recognising excellence.”
Top Prize: £1000 | Categories: Poem | Deadline: January
Run each year by the Kent & Sussex Poetry Society. A top prize of £1000 and several runner-up prizes. The judge for 2012 and 2013 was Daljit Nagra. Open to anyone aged sixteen and over, and seeking poems that are not published or due for publication anywhere.
Top Prize: £300 | Categories: Poem / Short Story | Deadline: May / October
The London Magazine‘s annual competitions seek to recognise new talent, and promote unpublished poems and stories from around the world. This prestigious magazine has previously been home to Sylvia Plath, Ted Hughes, Christopher Reid, and Helen Dunmore among others. Winners are invited to a London-based networking drinks reception.
Top Prize: £1000 | Categories: Short Story / Poem | Deadline: December
This new prize awards up to £1000 to the best story or poem submitted. In addition the organisers have pledged to plant a tree in Kenya for every entry received. Stories may be up to 4000 words and poems up to 50 lines, and entries are accepted from writers anywhere in the world.
Top Prize: £10000 | Categories: Short Story / Poem | Deadline: September
This competition previously alternated between fiction and poetry each year, but is now open to both. It is run by the Manchester Writing School, under the direction of Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy. The compeition was founded in 2008, and is open to anyone over the age of sixteen.
Top Prize: £10000 | Categories: Short Story | Deadline: January
This annual prize is open worldwide. Sponsored by the Mogford Hotels And Restaurants Group, it seeks to reward the writer of a short story not longer than 2500 words which revolves in some way around food. The judges this year are Philip Pullman and Mary Berry.
Top Prize: €1000 | Categories: Short Story | Deadline: June
This annual competition is run by The Moth Magazine, and in addition to the sizeable first prize boasts a second prize of a week-long retreat at Circle of Misse in France. Winning and specially commended entries usually appear in the magazine.
Top Prize: £3000 | Categories: Journalism / Blog / Book | Deadline: January
An annual prize for political writing. There are awards each year for the blog, the piece of journalism and the book that most embody Orwell’s ambition to “make political writing into an art”. This prestigious competition is now entering its twenty-first year.
Top Prize: £10000 | Categories: Novel / Book / Collection | Deadline: December
An annual award administered by the Royal Society for Literature which goes to the work of fiction, non-fiction or poetry that judges feel best evokes the spirit of a place. All prize winners also receive a paperweight clock, which they are awarded at a celebratory dinner.
Top Prize: £1700 and Publication | Categories: Short Story | Deadline: Unknown
Winners are published in Southword. Previous prizes have also included a week-long residency and an expenses-paid trip to the Cork International Short Fiction Festival. “The Sean O Faolain Short Story Competition […] is dedicated to one of Ireland’s most accomplished story writers and theorists, sponsored by the Munster Literature Centre.”
Top Prize: £30000 | Categories: Short Story | Deadline: June
One of the most valuable short story prizes in the UK. “The Sunday Times EFG Private Bank Award honours the finest writers of short stories in the UK and Ireland. Worth £30,000 to the winning author, it is open to anyone with a previous record of publication in creative writing in the UK or Ireland.”
Top Prize: £15000 | Categories: Collection | Deadline: August
Awarded annually for the best collection of verse published in the UK or Ireland. One of the most prestigious British poetry prizes. This prize is administered by the Poetry Book Society and supported by the estate of reknowned poet TS Eliot, after whom it is named.
Top Prize: £1000 | Categories: Short Story | Deadline: Unknown
An annual prize administered by The Royal Society Of Literature for the best unpublished short story of the year. Winners are published in Prospect online and the RSL Review. The prize was founded to commemorate writer and critic Sir Victor Sawden Pritchett.
Top Prize: £300 and Publication | Categories: Short Story / Poem / Memoir | Deadline: Unknown
This newly-established prize (first run in 2009) is administered by British literary magazine Wasifiri, in which the winners of each category are published. “The competition is open to anyone worldwide who has not published a complete book in their chosen category.”
Top Prize: £1000 | Categories: Novel | Deadline: August
This award is judged collectively by the residents of a village in Cheshire, who read a number of debut novels by UK-based authors published in the previous year and decide which they like the most. The winner’s name is also engraved on a trophy, which remains in the village.
Top Prize: £2500 | Categories: Short Story | Deadline: March
This annual short story competition is aimed at emerging writers. It awards £2,500 to the best piece of short fiction by a writer resident in the UK and Ireland who has yet to secure a publishing deal. “The judges will be looking for short stories that explore and expand the possibilities of the form. We encourage submissions from all literary genres, and there are no restrictions on theme or subject matter.“
Top Prize: Course and Publication | Categories: Short Story | Deadline: February
A free-to-enter short story competition, with a first prize which includes a place on an Arvon Residential Writing Course (valued at approximately £1000) and online publication. Entries must be original, aimed at adults, and no longer that 2000 words in length.