Tips on Hosting a Successful Contest
Writing contests are a fun way to both inspire others with their writing and to become exposed to writing styles, stories, and even writers that you may not normally come across. As a result of years participating in contests, both as a host and as a contestant, I’ve comprised a list of tips that may help boost a contest’s popularity.
Just as many people like to have an outline before they begin working on a story or an essay, planning is also important when it comes to writing contests, especially on key essentials such as rules and deadlines.
It’s important to put some thought into your rules because this outlines what you are willing and not willing to accept. For example, if you feel uncomfortable reading topics such as homosexuality, incest, and explicit sex, that should be clearly stated in the rules of the contest. Your contestants cannot read your mind, and it’s irritating as a contestant when you put time and effort into an entry only to have the host leave you a nasty comment because you wrote about a topic they are uncomfortable with but did not state in the rules. Also, if you’re not interested in reading something chaptered or exceeding a certain word count, you should also include a word or chapter maximum in the rules.
A good general rule of thumb when it comes to picking a deadline is to choose a time when you know you won’t have much going on so that you’ll be able to judge the contest in a timely manner. For example, if I’m hosting a contest during the semester, I make sure to set the deadline near a holiday when I know I won’t be too busy with school, like Thanksgiving or spring break. Granted, life happens, and sometimes unexpected things can interfere with a host’s ability to judge his or her contest. That’s understandable. On the other hand, it would not be the greatest idea for a host to set a contest deadline during his or her midterms or finals, a chaotic time when it is going to be next to impossible to effectively judge a contest.
Another tip for choosing deadlines is to not choose a date that falls in the middle of the week. One reason for this is consideration for the contestants. For most people, the work week can be a pretty hectic time with classes and jobs taking up a good chunk of time. Because of that, a contest can fall on the backburner, and it is easier for a contestant if they have the weekend to polish up their entry. This also benefits the host because contestants are less likely to become too busy to post the story or forget to turn in their entries, making the contest more likely to get enough entries to judge.
In the planning stage, commitment is also crucial. If you have a lot of great prompts but feel like you may not be able to keep track of or carry a contest to completion, the Writing Prompts thread is a great place to post your prompts without having to read whatever your prompts inspire.
While I mentioned before that some restrictions are necessary, such as restrictions against things that the host feels uncomfortable reading or possible triggers, at times, trivial restrictions can lessen the range of contestants and entries a host may receive, therefore lowering the likelihood that the contest will be a success. For instance, if I created a contest that only accepted entries written in my chosen fandom (a fandom that isn’t very popular on the site), I would be severely lessening the appeal of my contest. Even if it was a promising contest, with great prizes and inspiring prompts, it would not have much appeal due to the fandom restriction.
Restrictions against specific story types (either original fiction or fan fiction), specific fandoms, and even specific ratings (unless the host feels uncomfortable reading R or NC-17 rated stories) can narrow the range of possible contestants for a given contest, as well as depriving the host of some really good reads. As another example, though I’m not a fan of Justin Bieber, there are probably a lot of well-written stories out there involving him and some talented writers that choose to write about him that could seriously do great things with a prompt that inspires them. While it all boils down to personal preferences, being open-minded is rarely a bad thing, and taking the opportunity to expose yourself to fandoms you would not normally read through a contest may end up surprising you.
Though a bit of a cliché, the saying “variety is the spice of life” can also be applied to contest prompts. The greater diversity of prompts that you include in your contest, the more likely someone will catch that spark of inspiration and choose to enter. Variety can be found in many forms, and this doesn’t mean that you have to include twenty different forms of prompts in order to have diversity. While one host may choose to employ diversity in their contest by including a set number of quotes, photographs, lyrics, and songs, another host may choose to use variation in the topics displayed in their photo prompts or the genres of music in their song-fic contest.
As a host, if you choose numerous pictures that only display a couple holding hands, once again, you’re narrowing the range of contestants and entries you may receive. Though you could have fifty different photos, if they all focus on pretty much the same thing, it doesn’t really count. Another example would be, for a song-fic contest, if a host includes over a hundred different songs, but those songs are only by four artists. Though they included numerous songs, it would not possess the same diversity as someone who had chosen over a hundred different songs, each by a different artist. As a host, you’re narrowing your appeal down to only a select group of people that happen to be familiar with the artists/songs you’ve selected.
Another form of variation in contests would be thinking outside the box. We've all come across the typical song-fics, quote prompt, and photo prompt contests, so don't be afraid to do something other than that by say, creating a contest centered on unconventional formatting or something else that you would enjoy reading that hasn't been done before in a contest.
Though this isn’t always the case, the success of a contest generally correlates with the contest’s ability to appeal to and inspire many people, and variety helps to accomplish that.
Unfortunately, a good chunk of writing contests on the site does not get judged for various reasons. Whatever the reasons may be, a good way for a host to ensure contestants in future contests that they may host would be to follow through with current contests. From my own personal experience, if I’ve entered a contest, finished my entry on time, but the host never judged the contest, it’s unlikely that I’m going to enter another one of that person’s contests in the future because they haven’t proven themselves to be a reliable judge.
That being said, it’s understandable if a host has certain circumstances that keep them from being able to judge a contest, such as school or personal issues, but leaving your contestants in the dark about the status of a contest isn’t the best way to deal with it. It’s never nice, as a host, to have contestants fail to turn in an entry without taking the time to say that they’re dropping out of the contests, and it works both ways. It’s always a good idea to treat people the way you want to be treated, so if, for whatever reason, you aren’t going to be able to judge your contest, let the contestants know. No one should feel the need to provide any sort of explanation, but just as a simple “I’m sorry, but I’m not going to be able to finish my entry” would let a host know that a contestant is unable to turn in an entry, a simple “I’m sorry, but I’m not going to be able to judge this contest” would let contestants know that the contest isn’t going to be judged.
It’s common courtesy, and if, for some reason, contestants harass you, it isn’t your issue. They should simply be reported.
In closing, there is never any guarantee that a contest will be successful, but these are some tips that could help lean the odds in your favor.
April 17th, 2013 at 06:54pm
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December 20th, 2012 at 03:46am
December 18th, 2012 at 12:54am