Tiny Light's Annual Essay Contest

Award-Winning Writing Since 1995

2012 Contest Winners
2011 Contest Winners
2010 Contest Winners
2009 Contest Winners
2008 Contest Winners
2007 Contest Winners
2006 Contest Winners
2005 Contest Winners
2004 Contest Winners
2003 Contest Winners
2002 Contest Winners
2001 Contest Winners
2000 Contest Winners
1999 Contest Winners

Essay Contest Guidelines

18th Annual Contest Deadline: February 17, 2012

Tiny Lights invites entries that feature a distinctive voice, discernible conflict and an eventual shift in the narrator's perspective. We are looking for writers who weave the struggle to understand into the fabric of their essays.

This year, we offer 5 prizes in the "Standard" category and 3 "Flashpoint" prizes.

We can only consider unpublished work, or previously published material for which the author holds rights. Rights revert to author after publication in the hard copy edition of Tiny Lights.

  • Each essay must be accompanied by an entry fee: $15 for first essay, $10 each additional essay. Make checks payable to:

    Tiny Lights Publications. Mail to: P.O. Box 928, Petaluma, CA 94953.

  • SASE (self-addressed, stamped envelope) recommended for feedback/contest notification. One envelope for multiple submissions OK.
  • Essays may be submitted in one of two categories:
  • STANDARD (no longer than 2,000 words) or
  • FLASHPOINT (no more than 1,000 words)
  • Please indicate preferred category on ms.
  • Entries should be typed and double-spaced.
  • Cover letters are optional, but ideally the title page of the manuscript should include author's name, complete address, e-mail, phone number, and essay word count. Essay title and page number in header or footer OK. Author name should not appear there.
  • Personal essay requires writers to communicate the truth of their experiences to the best of their abilities. While no theme restrictions apply to this contest, we will not consider essays that celebrate brutality or gratuitous violence. Tiny Lights does not accept poetry, short stories, or material written for children. Entry fees for inappropriate submissions may not be returned.
  • Entries must be postmarked by February 17, 2012.
  • Prizes will be awarded as follows:
    • First Place: $350
    • Second Place: $250
    • Third Place: $150
    • Two Honorable Mention Prizes: $100 each.
    Three FLASHPOINT prizes of $100 are also offered. Awards will be determined by a panel of judges. Final authority rests with the Editor-in-Chief, Susan Bono.
  • Winners will be posted at www.tiny-lights.com by April 11th, 2012
  • Winning essays are subject to editing before publication. Final copy must be approved by writer. No essays will be published in hard copy or online publications without author's permission.
  • All contestants will receive a hard copy of Tiny Lights' contest publication featuring the winning entries.

A few words about hard copy submissions: I know it's old-fashioned, cumbersome and expensive for you to send us your entries via snail mail. Someday, I'm going to have to invest in the software that allows us to manage electronic submissions. But until we learn to enjoy scrolling through hundreds of essays on computer screens, you'll just have to put up with us sprawling on couches and beds, sitting at the kitchen table or in a sunny window or a rocking chair or a dentist's waiting room, reading every single word you send us. We're old-fashioned enough to believe that's important.

One way to save $$ on postage is to submit your entries in a 6" x 9" envelope, which allows it to be sent at letter rates. A 2,000 word essay folded in half with entry fee and SASE should not exceed the U.S. Postal Service's ¼" thickness limit, and costs about half of what the same material sent in a larger envelope does. (Do NOT expect a 6 ½" x 9 ½" envelope to get the same treatment!) Tiny Lights can live with the fold down the middle at those rates! While we're on the subject, please avoid business letter-sized envelopes for entries. Thrice-folded manuscripts are bad news. (Just imagine more than 4 of them open in a pile and you'll start to see what I mean.)

Here's why we recommend a SASE with a single "Forever" stamp (or letter stamp of your choice): By the time the winners are decided, the judges have formed some impressions of your work, even if it didn't place. It only takes a moment to jot these thoughts down, and if we have a SASE, we will send them to you, along with a nice rejection letter. Oftentimes, we will use the first page or two of your essay for this feedback, which can actually help remind you months later where your essay has been. (Of course, you keep meticulous records of where you submit, don't you?) There's no need to include postage for the entire manuscript's return, since you have other copies in your computer.

Speaking of returns, I have a weird confession. Crazy as it sounds, if you have entered our contests before and haven't gotten your SASE back, I probably liked your essay too much. At the end of every contest there are losing entries that are so good, I want to write the authors personally. But whenever I think about doing it, I feel guilty, because I have no real explanation for not choosing them, except someone has to lose, and then I get busy, and 8 months or a year later, I'm ashamed to see these manuscripts still in my office, so I hide them until they are so old I figure everyone's moved on and I can throw them away. Don't think for a minute I'm proud of this behavior. I'm telling you because it's just more proof that you never know what an editor really thinks about your work. So don't be unduly influenced by anything they do.

Any more questions? Additional inquiries may be addressed to editor@tiny-lights.com.