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Writing Contest 2023
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2022 Youth Writing Contest Winners
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2022 Adult Writing Contest Winners

Submissions are closed
for the 2023 OWL
Adult Writing Contest

Time to start writing
for next year's contest!

2023 Rules and Categories


In honor of the generous donation from Village Lake Writers and Poets,
we have a new contest category! Click here to see!

When you pay your $15 entry fee, you may enter this and any of the other categories!
(Must be a 2023-dues-paying OWL member. VLWPs are OWLs now.)

Join us for another exciting year of award-winning writing. OWL members may enter as many of the adult categories as they wish for a flat fee of only $15! Not a member yet? You are most welcome to join and submit your entry fee at the same time by check for $45 or via the PayPal button below.

Gratitude and Appreciation

First things first. We sincerely thank all our contest sponsors. Every category you see is here because a generous person or group donated the prize money. There would be no writing contests without YOU! Sponsors are listed with their categories.


Best Book of 2022 (fiction and nonfiction) – Deadline is August 1, 2023
Everything else – August 31, 2023

What You Get for Your $15 Contest Entry Fee:

1. A chance at a cash prize!

2. You may enter as many categories as you like, making it much more affordable than others that charge you per category or include an expensive three-figure conference!

3. You get motivation to WRITE.

4. The categories and themes give you some guidance, so you're not staring clueless at a blank screen.

5. You can use your entries in other contests or submit for publication afterwards.

6. Since we are a regional group and not a national one, your odds of winning something are higher!

7. Winning any prize, even an honorable mention, empowers you to use the brag-worthy accolade of "award-winning author" and a credit to add to your portfolio.

How to pay the contest entry fee:

You may pay online or via check.

Online: Use our handy PayPal buttons. Please note: There is a $1 charge to cover the PayPal processing fees for the contest fee and another $1 charge for fees for the membership.

Membership + Contest Fee ($47.00)

Contest Fee only: ($16.00)

Student Membership +Contest Fee ($32.00)

Check: Send $15 if you're a member, or $45 to include annual membership and contest fee ($30 for student membership plus entry) to:

OWL Contests
c/o Veda Boyd Jones
505 W. 34th
Joplin, MO 64804

Please note: This address is ONLY for the contest/annual membership fee. Contest entries sent to this address will be discarded.

Writing Contest RULES

General Guidelines

• No gratuitous or graphic violence or sex. Let's keep it clean.

• Only one entry per category is allowed.

• You may only enter a manuscript in ONE category.

• EVERY piece needs a title, including haiku.

• All entries must abide by the rules, including manuscript formatting and submission requirements. Any deviation, such as a wrong font or font size, lack of a title, or missing author information, will result in disqualification of that piece.

• Physical entries (Best Book) must be mailed to the contest coordinator. Contest entries mailed to the treasurer or anyone else in OWL will be disqualified.

• All entries, with the obvious exception of Best Published Book, must be UNPUBLISHED at the time of submission, and be the original work of the writer. (If your entry has appeared in any written form, such as in a blog, website [like Wattpad], or other electronic outlet, it is considered published and ineligible for entry in any OWL contest.)

• Best Fiction and Best Nonfiction Book of 2022 are just that. Any book with a publication date other than 2022 is disqualified.

• Both Best Book categories require an ISBN or they will be disqualified.

• Submit all entries except Best Fiction Book and Best Nonfiction Book categories via email to adult.writing@ozarkswritersleague.com. (Note the dot between adult and writing.)

• Payment of contest entry fee will be verified by the Contest Facilitator. No entry fee, no entry.

• Once published at the opening of the contest period, these rules are fixed and final.


• TITLE: Be sure to give your piece a title! First line can serve as the title for haikus.

• WORD COUNT: Word limit means just what you'd expect: the number of words in your piece. The title does not count toward your word count.

• FILE TYPE: All files EXCEPT for Best Published Book (fiction or nonfiction) must be in some normal file type (like .rtf, doc, docx, or. docs).

• STANDARD FORMATTING: Times New Roman, 12-point, double-spaced (except for poetry), and 1" margins. Improperly formatted submissions will be disqualified. You should know your word processor's settings. If you do not understand how to set your margins, change your font to the standard, add a header, or set the line spacing to double, look it up (on a YouTube tutorial, for instance) and get it right before submission.

• FIRST LINE: Put the category ID and word count flush left on the first line. Example: N2 – Memoir, 1,200 words. Categories with no word count designation, such as haiku, poetry, and first page of a WIP, do not need a word count.

• HEADER: If your entry is more than 1 page long, you should have page numbers on the right.

• EBOOKS: Ebook entry for Best Published Book (fiction or nonfiction) must be attached to an email as either .PDF, .doc, .docx, .mobi or .epub formats.

• FILE ATTACHMENTS: The attached submission file(s) must have NO author identification details, but each MUST have the contest identifier (like B1, S31) and a TITLE.


1. The BODY of your email must have FULL AUTHOR CONTACT Information and SUBMISSION INFORMATION. That means:
     • Name
     • Pseudonym, if applicable
     • Mailing Address
     • Phone
     • Email
     • Category ID – title and word count where applicable

     • B1 – My Amazing First Page or N1 – Remembering Momma

YOUR FILES MUST INCLUDE THE TITLE IN THE FILENAME. Please label each file as follows: Category ID (like N1) – Title
     EXAMPLE filename: B1 – Best Book Ever Written

2. Suggestion for your sanity's sake: Put all your contest files into a folder on your computer and write the file names as follows: Category ID – title.
     EXAMPLE: P1 – Mountain Poem

3. Email digital entries to adult.writing@ozarkswritersleague.com

Special Exceptions: Best Book Categories

• MAIL your Best Book Award entries to the contest coordinator. We must have books by August 1.
Mail to:
     Larry Wood
     2687 Annelise Lane
     Joplin, MO 64804

Best Published Book (fiction and nonfiction): August 1, 2023
Everything Else: August 31, 2023

The Rest of the Fine Print:

• You must be an OWL member to enter the contest. You may pay the $30 annual membership dues plus $15 contest entry fee for a total of $45 in order to participate. Your membership includes information-packed conferences plus other benefits.

• Neither OWL nor the Contest Coordinator is responsible for misdirected or lost entries. You will receive an email to confirm receipt.

• DISQUALIFICATION: Late entries or those breaking any rule are disqualified.

• No manuscripts will be returned, and all will be deleted/destroyed after judging is final. Those entering Best Published Book contest may have it returned if a mailer AND sufficient postage is sent with the entry. Otherwise, they will be donated.

• Qualified judges will conduct blind judging.

• Judges and sponsors, if OWL members, may not enter the category they judge or sponsor, but may enter other categories.

• Even if we receive three or fewer entries in a category, those will still be judged and awarded prizes.

• First Place winners may not enter that manuscript in any subsequent OWL writing contest.

2023 Adult Writing Contest Categories

NOTE: Unless otherwise indicated, prizes are a certificate of achievement plus 1st $50, 2nd $30, 3rd $20. Honorable Mentions, if granted, receive a certificate.


First, read carefully. Everything you need is in here. Part of entering contests is reading and following the guidelines carefully.


New! The Joan Barrett Roberts VLWP Magical Ozarks Moments
Sponsor: The former Village Lake Writers and Poets,
whom OWL adopted in Aug. 2023
Bring a magical Ozarks moment to life in 300 words or less of poetry or prose.
Word limit: 300 words
Prizes: 1st $50, 2nd $30, 3rd $20

S1 – Humorous Short Piece
Go ahead, make me laugh but do it fast!
Limit: 3,000 words
Sponsor: Russell Gayer

S2 – Flash Fiction Story – Exactly 100 Words
Tell a complete story with a beginning, middle, and end inspired by the photo prompt in precisely 100 words.
Limit: Exactly 100 words.

Click on photo for larger image.

Sponsors: Rochelle Wisoff-Fields and Jan Fields

S3 – Inspirational Romance Story.
Write an inspirational romance, set in any time period, that inspires the reader to be a moral fiber in a weather-worn fabric. Story must have the essentials of a romance, including a Happily Ever After ending.
Limit: 2,000 words
Sponsor: Diane Yates

S4 – "I didn't see that coming!" O'Henry Style Story
Write a story that concludes with a "Wow, I didn't see that coming" ending.
Check out O'Henry's "The Gift of the Magi" for inspiration.
Limit: 1,500 words.
Sponsor: Ross Malone

S5 – Western Short Story
Write a Western short story with a beginning, middle, and end. Must be set in America, on the frontier, before 1900.
Limit: 3,000 words
Sponsor: Duke Pennell

S6 – "Write the Old Stuff" Historical Fiction
Write a historical tale set before 1970 with an ordinary person (your fictionalized character) reacting to a historical event or encountering a well-known person from that time period. For example: A boy and his dog watch tea thrown into Boston Harbor or a little girl encounters Sitting Bull at a Wild West show.
Limit 2,000 words.
Sponsor: Anonymous

S7 – Dear Folks
Write a snail-mail letter asking for money so you can come back to the Ozarks. Must include the words "pewter," "bats," "huckleberries," "Orion," and "Chaucer."
Limit: 1,000 words
Sponsors: Richard and Bonnie Tesh
Prizes: 1st $25, 2nd $15, 3rd $10

S8 – Magical Realism Story
Tell a real + surreal story that combines fantasy elements in a real-world setting. Your story may be set in any time period, but your historical elements need to be accurate to the best of your knowledge. As a reader, I must be able to accept your story as real within its own context (willing suspension of disbelief). But think outside the box. If you throw down a vampire in New York, that's too much "been there, done that." Your story must contain these four words in the body of the tale: Yellow, figure, destiny, and calm.
Limit: 3000 words.
Sponsor: Ronda Del Boccio

S9 – Romantic Adventure Short Story
Write a story about finding unexpected romance on a planned adventure, whether it's fishing on a local pond or skiing in the Swiss Alps. There's a whole world out there. Have fun.
Limit: 2000 words
Sponsor: Anonymous

S10 – Juvenile Short Story – Fiction
A fictional story targeted toward young readers ages 9-12. The subject matter may be informative but should also be entertaining and feature themes of interest to youth.
Limit: 1,500 words
Sponsor: Lindsey Hobson
Prizes: 1st $25, 2nd $15, 3rd $10

S11 – A Christmas Quandary
The setting and situation: It's December 23, and you are at Walmart picking up a few Santa Claus items for your 8-year-old granddaughter. You are in the checkout line behind a woman with three little girls, ages about 5 to 10. The woman's basket contains a new dress for each girl, three pairs of shoes, several socks, a box of chocolates, and three small dolls. The girls are excited as the items are being checked. The woman, dressed in work clothes covered with paint drippings, digs through her purse for loose bills but comes up short of the $112.75 total she needs. The clerk asks which items she wants to put back. Write a story with one of the following solutions: 1) The woman is in tears, and one of the girls has to give up one of her gifts. Which one? 2) You offer to pay the whole amount. 3) You offer to pay the difference. If so, how do you handle it? 4) Any other choice you might come up with.
Limit: 500 words
Sponsor: Michael Don Fess

S12 – Short Story set from 1400 to 1900
Write a Short Story about life from 1400 to 1900. It can be about indigenous or pioneer life, or about a historical event, and it may include fictional characters. Let us know, in some way, the time period you have chosen.
Limit: 1,500 words
Sponsor: Rose Heaser

N1 – Memoir & Creative Nonfiction
In memory of Black & Kiddo. An interesting true story or essay of something you have experienced or witnessed.
Limit: 3,000 words.
Sponsor: Brenda Black

N2 – Travel Article
Take me somewhere I've never been or make me want to go back. What is unique and appealing about this place or spot?
Limit: 1,200 words.
Sponsor: Larry Wood.
Prizes: 1st $25, 2nd $15, 3rd $10

N3 – Humorous Anecdote Prize
"This Really Happened to Me" Humorous Anecdote: Write an amusing story about something that actually happened to you.
Anecdote (definition): a short account of a particular incident or event, especially of an interesting or amusing nature.
Limit: 300 words
Sponsor: John "Doc" Crawford and Ronda Del Boccio
Prizes: 1st $40, 2nd $25, 3rd $10, 3 HMs $5 ea.

N4 – Hometown Newspaper Column
Write a nostalgic article about the Ozarks that is suitable for a newspaper column. The article should have a headline (title) and give your column a name.
Limit: 500 - 1,000 words.
Sponsor: Lonnie Whitaker
Prizes: 1st $25, 2nd $15, 3rd $10

N5 – Creative Nonfiction: My Favorite Hobby
Through your prose, make me want to take up your hobby, whether it's golf, gardening, cooking, sewing, or tinkering on car engines. Make me see it, feel it, taste it, smell it, or hear it, whatever is appropriate to your hobby.
Limit: 1,000 words
Sponsor: Linda Apple
Prizes: 1st $25, 2nd $15, 3rd $10

N6 – Ozarks Article
Write an article about some aspect of the Ozarks. It can be historical, travel related, or a profile of an interesting person, as long as it pertains to the Ozarks.
Limit: 1,200 words
Sponsor: Larry Wood

N7 – Growing Up Rural
Write a personal experience essay about growing up in a rural area.
Limit: 1,200 words
Sponsor: Carolyn Hall
Prizes: 1st $25, 2nd $15, 3rd $10

P1 – Crawford Poetry Prize
The theme is Everyday Miracles. Things we take for granted. This will be lyric (rhymed) form.
Limit: 24 lines.
Sponsor: John "Doc" Crawford
Prizes: 1st $100, 2nd $50, 3rd $25, 1st HM $15, 2nd HM $10, 3rd HM $5

P2 – Haiku
Set a vivid scene while making me feel something. In five-seven-five format.
Limit: 17 syllables
Sponsor: Jan Morrill Vanek
Prizes: 1st $25, 2nd $15, 3rd $10

B1 – Best First Page of a Fiction Book in Progress
Share the first page of your WIP (work in progress) and be sure to pull us into your story. You can start near the top of the page. Be sure to give the book a title.
Limit: 1 page
Sponsors: Margarite Stever and Bonnie Tesh
Prizes: 1st $25, 2nd $15, 3rd $10

B2 – Best Published Fiction Book of 2022
Best fictional book in hardcover, paperback or e-book published during the calendar year of 2022 (book must show a copyright date of 2022 and have an ISBN).
Sponsor: Billie Holladay Skelley
1 prize of $100

B3 – Best Published Nonfiction Book of 2022
Best nonfiction book in hardcover, paperback or ebook published during the calendar year of 2022 (book must show a copyright date of 2022 and have an ISBN).
Sponsor: Veda Boyd Jones
1 prize of $100