Most writers, myself included, experience writing contests as a participant. We send our beloved creations to a stranger, at the mercy of their judgement. Then we wait for a few months, hoping our writing comes back with praises for their keen insights on the human condition, and maybe a little bit of cash to help pay the rent.
However, what happens if writers turn this model upside down? Instead of entering writing contests, what if they hosted them?
I've compiled material from a set of writers who have met some basic criteria. First, they have all hosted multiple contests. Second, they awarded prizes other than recognition. Third, they have published their own books. Without further ado, let me introduce my panel:
- Susanna Loenard Hill, is the award winning author of nearly a dozen books for children, including: Punxsutawney Phyllis (A Book List Children’s Pick and Amelia Bloomer Project choice), No Sword Fighting In The House (a Junior Library Guild selection), Can’t Sleep Without Sheep (a Children’s Book of the Month), and Not Yet, Rose (a Gold Mom’s Choice Award Winner.) Her books have been translated into French, Dutch, German, and Japanese, with one hopefully forthcoming in Korean. She lives in New York’s Mid-Hudson Valley with her husband, children, and two rescue dogs.
- Why Should Writers Consider Hosting A Writing Contest?
- What are the Best and Worst Parts of Hosting a Writing Contest?
- How Do You Determine The Prize?
- What Advice Would You Give Participants?
Why Should Writers Consider Hosting A Writing Contest?Hosting a contest can help build your platform (something that is all the rage in the publishing industry). It can boost traffic to your website. Yet, it will take time away from your writing, and a writer's number one job is to writer. However, publicity was not the only reason these authors started their contests. Perhaps there is a compelling enough reason to take time and energy away from your work and start a contest.
Susanna Leonard Hill: I want my blog to be an interesting, fun place for writers and readers of all ages to congregate, so I try to think up interesting, fun things to do....The contests break up the routine of the blog and give everyone a chance to participate at whatever level they like, whether it's as writers, readers, or voters.
I would love to expand my contests to included a kids' section that was all entries written by kids, but as yet we don't have enough contestants in that age group.
C.Hope Clark: First, to draw attention to my website, FundsforWriters. I ran an annual essay contest for nine years. Second, I realized that there were few essay contests, particularly ones where writers could draw upon their experiences and relate. I adore a good essay proving a point, so I wanted to offer the type of contests I'd appreciate. So, the decision was selfish in terms of promotion, and charitable in terms of offering an opportunity.
Victoria Grossasck: Why do the agents – editors – judges really want manuscripts? In most cases it is because they want to sell the manuscripts further, either to publishing houses or to the general public.
We do hope to build up some good will and publicity for our series of novels. But we have other motives, too. Our competitions pay homage to the many competitions of ancient Greece, which brought us the great sporting events of the Olympics, but was also the spur for the creation of many plays and other works of art. We want to encourage the same dedication to excellence.
We particularly want to support educators teaching mythology, so each contest has two levels: those for poets under 18, and those for adults.
What are the Best and Worst Parts About Hosting a Writing Contest?Once you decide to run a contest, you'll have to figure out how involved you want to be. Somebody has to gather entries, communicate to contestants, read and judge the entries, and finally gather and disperse the awards.
Susanna Leonard Hill: The best part of running contests is the participation and enthusiasm. We always get great entries that showcase really impressive talent and creativity.
The worst part of running contests is having to decide who the finalists will be! It's so hard to choose. Almost every entry has something about it that's well done. In the end, it's a great exercise in what editors go through every day. You can't pick everyone. And ultimately, there is an element of subjectivity - sometimes the people I choose as finalists might not be the ones someone else would choose - but I do the best I can by always having at least one assistant judge and by leaving the final decision up to the readers.
C. Hope Clark: Best? Wonderful stories, first. Plus I enjoy the excitement of the participants. They have hope when they enter, and I loved being part of their dream.
How Do You Determine The Prize for a Writing Contest?
Susanna Leonard Hill: I try to offer prizes that writers will value, and I try to offer prizes that have something to do with the theme of the contest. For example, the prize for the first annual Halloweensie Contest was a personalized signed copy of Haunted Party by Iza Trapani. I also offer things like writing craft books, market guides, and gift certificates to indie or online bookstores. But by far the best and most popular prizes are critiques by professional writers, or the chance to get a ms in front of an agent or editor for a read and critique. Those are harder to come by. Agents and editors are very busy and I don't know very many :) but I love being able to offer something so helpful to my winners. (If any agents or editors happen to be reading this and want to volunteer their services, please let me know :))
One Holiday Contest entry that I know of came very close to a contract with Little Brown, but was passed on at the last minute.
C.Hope Clark: I used to offer prize money that would attract MY attention. First prize of $200-$350. Also a second and third prize so applicants feel they have more than one chance. Get much less than that, and it isn't worth the attention of the writers and you diminish the quality of the submissions.
Victoria Grossack: As we are running a contest, we don’t expect a profit, at least not directly. The amount of the prize is $50 (US). We also hand out “Honorable Mentions” for the poems that we think deserve them. These poets win no money, but we post their poems and names at our website.
What Advice Would You Give Participants?
C. Hope Clark:I no longer run a contest. I post calls for contest submissions, however, in my weekly FundsForWriters newsletters. First and best piece of advice: do NOT enter something that hasn't been well edited. Second: follow the dang guidelines! Sounds elementary, but my guess is that 5-10% of entrants ignore some part of the guidelines.
Victoria Grossack: Follow the rules! If the contest is for a poem about Aphrodite, then if you send in one about Pegasus, it will not win, not even if it is the only poem we receive. Poems which are late or which exceed the line count are also automatically disqualified.
Now, what makes a poem good? Which ones please us? We like those which concentrate on a myth or an aspect of a god or goddess and illuminate that myth or aspect with well-chosen phrases. A good poem is consistently good – every line works with meaning, words, and rhythm. We receive many poems that are mere lists of a deity’s attributes with no overarching theme; acrostics are particularly prone to this problem. We appreciate that acrostics can be a good way for some people to learn to write poetry, but they rarely make great poems.
Bonus MaterialFor more tips on holding a contest online, check out this post by Jean Oram.
As an alternative to a full blown contest, many writers will do one time give-aways. Darcy Pattison opines on that technique in this article.
Your TurnHave you encountered other writers who host writing contests? Let me know and I'll reach out to them.
If you decide to host a writing contest after reading this post, put your link in the comments, and I'll spread the hype.