Most of these contests don’t require an entry fee, but that can change at any time; be sure and read and follow all the submission instructions to the letter. A few of these entities, although reputable, DO require an entry fee, which can range from a few dollars on up. I can’t recommend that you do or do not submit to contests requiring such a fee; that will have to be left to your own discretion. Generally speaking, the bigger the prize money, the larger the entry fee. For more information on cautions and tips, visit the Writer Beware section of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers web site.
Mystery Writers of America McCloy-MWA Scholarships
Two mystery writers receive up to $500 tuition for live (not online) classes, courses, or workshops in writing. Samples of mystery writing to submit may be the first 3 chapters of a novel or work of nonfiction, OR 3 short stories, OR a complete script. No fees or membership requirements. Postmark deadline: last day in February each year.
NOVELS, UNPUBLISHED MANUSCRIPTS
Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award
Amazon, Penguin Group and Create Space sponsor this annual no-fee contest for both general fiction and YA fiction.
Best First Crime Novel Competition
This competition is sponsored by St. Martins Minotaur and the Mystery Writers of America. It’s open to open to any writer, regardless of nationality, who has never been the author of a published crime novel
Best Private Eye Novel
(NOTE: Scroll down the page link.) Sponsored by the Private Eye Writers of America (PWA) and St. Martin's Press, it’s open to any professional or non-professional writer, regardless of race or nationality, who has never been the author of a published "private eye" novel and who is not under contract with a publisher for publication of a "private eye" novel. Awards a publishing contract to the winner.
Crime Writers Association Debut Dagger
The CWA’s annual award for an unpublished crime fiction manuscript is very prestigious and carries a lot of weight in the publishing industry. However, the entry fee is one of the highest out there, especially if you live outside the U.K., depending upon what the going currency conversion rate may be.
Daphne du Maurier Award
Although the Romance Writers of America also sponsor the Daphne du Maurier Award for published books, this award is given to the author of an unpublished book manuscript in the mystery/suspense category.
Malice Domestic Competition
(NOTE: Scroll down the page link.) Sponsored by St. Martins Minotaur and the Malice Domestic Conference, this contest is open to any professional or non-professional writer, regardless of nationality, who has never been the author of a published traditional mystery. Awards a publishing contract to the winner.
Maryland Writers Association
The MWA sponors an annual novel competition for both members and non-members. This fee-based contest only requires the first 25 pages of your manuscript and does have a separate mystery/thriller category.
Pacific Northwest Writers Association
An annual fee-based contest for an unpublished manuscript with several categories, including mystery/thriller.
Public Safety Writers Association
The annual Public Safety Writers Association Writing Competition is open to any paid member in good standing of the Public Safety Writers Association (PSWA).
Southwest Writers International Writing Contest
You don’t have to be a member of the SWA to enter and they do have a Mystery/Supense/Thriller category. To enter, you’ll need to submit the first 20 pages of your manuscript plus a synopsis.
Tony Hillerman Prize
Awarded at Hillerman’s annual mystery writers conference, the award goes to to a first mystery novel set in the Southwest written by a previously unpublished mystery author. The winning novel will be published by Thomas Dunne Books.
BlueCat Fellini Screenplay Competition
Short screenplays and feature screenplays will receive two written analyses plus judging scores, so your fee will count for something, even if you don’t become a finalist.
Script Pipeline Competition
This is an annual fee-based contest, and you can pay even more for “additional notes.”
The same as above, only a competition for TV teleplays.
Al Blanchard Award
The annual Crime Bake conference sponsors the Al Blanchard short story contest. The story must be a crime story by a New England author or with a New England setting, previously unpublished, and no more than 5,000 words in length.
Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine
Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine sponors a “Mysterious Photograph” contest in each issue, where you can submit your 250-word story inspired by the photograph they post. Winning stories are published in a later issue.
Aura Astrada Short Story Contest
A fee-based literary contest sponsored by the Boston Review.
Black Orchid Novella Award
A contest of original unpublished works of fiction that conform to the tradition of the Nero Wolfe series, and are between 15,000 and 20,000 words
Cutthroat Magazine Literary Awards
A fee-based annual short-story contest with a stellar reputation and pedigree.
Fish Story Prizes
Annual flash fiction and short fiction literary contests, fee-based (in Euros).
Gemini Magazine Contest
This requires only a small fee, despite the fact the winner receives $1,000. The five finalists will also be published in the zine. All genres are accepted.
Glimmer Train Contests
Glimmer Train is a magazine focusing on general fiction and not crime fiction in particular, but it will accept stories with a crime/mystery element if they fall into the more “literary” vein. Glimmer Train accepts short story submissions for standard publication all the time with no entry fee, but their schedule of themed contests do require a fee.
Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley Award for Imaginative Fiction
A biannual contest which accepts submissions in the fantasy, science fiction, mystery, and horror genres, with publication in Rosebud Magazine.
This annual literary contest is sponsored by the University of Virginia, and if you’re a current student, staff or faculty member, or recent grad, you won’t be eligible. All others may submit.
This online mystery fiction publication offers several short contests throughout the year on various theme.
This is a fee-based semi-annual contest with eight $1000 prizes awarded per year, including Best Fiction and Best Short Fiction categories.
Press 53 Awards
This fee-based contest has several different categories based on story length, from flash fiction on up to novella.
Raymond Carver Short Story Competition
This literary journal sponsors an annual contest with a reasonable number of entries (255 in 2010).
Scarlet Stilleto Award
A contest for mystery/crime short stories, open to women residents of Australia.
Sleuthfest Short Story Contest
A contest associated with the annual Sleuthfest conference held in February in Florida; for registered participants of the conference only. In the past, you’ve had to be a registered conference participant to submit a story.
Story South’s Million Writers Award
This has become an annual award for stories already published in a reputable online ‘zine during the previous year.
The First Line
This is a quarterly contest in which you use the first line prompt they provide to write your story of 300 to 3,000 words. The editors are open to all genres and try to pick as eclectic a group of winners as possible.
Depite the name, this is a contest sponsored by a literary journal. The spring Three Cheers and a Tiger contest is on a mystery/thriller theme and the fall Three Cheers and Tiger features science fiction and fantasy. Both are 48-hour contests that you have to write prior to the given deadline based on a provided prompt. There’s also a Dead of Winter horror-themed contest.
Tony Hillerman Conference
Seeking 2,500-word mystery stories set in the West or Southwest including at least one Native American or cowboy/cowgirl
Watery Grave Invitational
The Drowning Machine blog run by Corey Wilde holds an annual short story contest. To enter, you have to have one published story online. Finalists will be entered into a random drawing to participate in the story invitational.
Writer’s Digest Popular Fiction Awards
Includes a separate Mystery/Crime Fiction category
Writers Weekly 24-Hour Contests
Writers Weekly sponsors a quarterly 24-hour short-story contest that is limited to a maximum number of participants, which is why it’s important to register in advance. As a registered participant, you’ll be e-mailed the story prompt within 24 hours of the deadline, and you have to create your new, original story within that timeframe.
Created by Francis Ford Coppola, Zoetrope magazine sponors an annual contest that could just win you a contract with an editor. It’s one of the granddaddy of all contests and receives many thouands of entries each year, FYI.
CONTEST DATABASES AND LISTS
Creative Writing Contests
Funds for Writers
Poets & Writers
Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America
Writers & Editors