Short fiction contests allow writers to compete to win cash prizes, publication, and additional exposure for their works. Many different publishers will hold yearly short fiction contests; the most common are those that regularly publish literary magazines. Some colleges and universities will host them as well for students to enter. Many contests require a nominal fee to enter; experts generally recommend avoiding contests that require a large fee or the purchase of a book, since really the person submitting the fiction is just paying to publish the book. Some contests require contestants to submit a piece of writing from a particular genre or of a particular length, but others are more open.
Most short fiction contests require writers to keep their submissions under a certain length, simply to ensure fairness to all. Otherwise, it would likely be too difficult, and take too much time, to judge the contest. Submitters might be required to submit a complete short story; other contests may allow them to simply submit a portion of a story, such as a chapter of a book. In some cases, writers may even be allowed to submit poems for the contest, but generally poetry contests are conducted separately from short fiction contests.
Occasionally, short fiction contests will have even more stringent requirements. Some will require writers to keep their stories under a certain number of words, or to take up a certain amount of time when read aloud. Some may even require all submissions to begin with the same first sentence; for example, a somewhat tongue in cheek contest once required that all stories begin with the infamous, "It was a dark and stormy night." Writers may also have to keep their story within a certain genre, such as fantasy, science fiction, or romance in order to qualify for particular competitions. These are just a few of the different types of fiction contests that may be hosted by various publishers or schools.
Writers will be required to submit their piece by the deadline. Often, it is free to submit a piece to a short fiction contest, though a small fee may be charged in other instances, often to simply narrow down the submission pool a little bit, or to cover the cost of the prize. Winners may then receive a cash prize for their work, and it will then usually be published on a website, in an anthology, or in a literary magazine. This can be a great way for new writers to get exposure for their work, and potentially make valuable contacts for later publication.