by Dr M C Gupta
Lessons learnt by organising contests on writing.com
This article was written in 2003, the year I joined this forum. I organised my first contest that year, a contest for ghazal type of poetry. Later I also organized a Gandhi contest. This article was revised in December 2007 when I had 26 months experience of running the monthly "POETRY IN RHYME - RHYTHM CONTEST-winner" . Since then, I have added two more contests--"FIVE STAR POETRY CONTEST:editor's choice" and "SONNET AND GHAZAL CONTEST: Closed" . These 3 monthly contests are in round no. 74, 39 and 31 respectively as on today, 17 November 2011.
The purpose of this article is to share with others the experience gained and the lessons learnt.
A. LESSONS LEARNT FROM THE FIRST CONTEST, August 2003:
1-- It was my first contest. I started on a very difficult topic. Writing English ghazal is difficult even for Indians, what to say of those in the West. It gave me quite a few anxious moments when I found so few entries. Those who want to start a contest should start with easier topics. Once they become experienced in organizing contests, and, to a certain extent, are recognized as ‘players in the field’, they might be in a better position to organize difficult contests.
So, LESSON ONE—Start from easy to difficult.
2-- I put too high gift points for the prizes. This might have been appropriate had there been, say, 50 or more entries. This depleted my gift point kitty, hence, to that extent, placed me in a slightly adverse position to organize future contests. When people enter a contest, the potential prize is important but much more so is the potential chance of being a winner.
So, LESSON TWO—Don’t put too high a prize that may become unaffordable later.
3-- I I invited volunteer judges in my very first post. This was not needed in view of the very few entries. Even otherwise, it makes sense to be sure that one has some expertise and interest and time before organising a contest. If this is ensured, I don’t see why anybody should need a guest judge except in some emergency situations. Inclusion of a guest judge is likely to bring in certain problems.
So LESSON THREE—Don’t be too enthusiastic to invite guest judges.
4-- I invited people to donate gift points towards prize money. This was unnecessary. If at all, such invitation should have been made after receiving substantial number of entries.
So LESSON FOUR—Do not ask for donations till the popularity of the contest and the contest organizer has been proven. Nobody wants to donate to a cause that is not popular.
B. FURTHER LESSONS LEARNT AFTER THE FIRST CONTEST—
I am happy to record that my "POETRY IN RHYME - RHYTHM CONTEST-winner" , has been mostly a success but has lately had problems. The lessons learnt are summarized below:
1. If we persist, with sincere hard work, it gets noticed. The contest was the winner of first prize in the “The Best of the rest” contest, "The Best of the Rest" , won an awardicon and has been featured in wdc newsletters many times.
2. If a message is given repeatedly, its receptivity increases. For a long time I tried to give impetus to ghazal writing by devoting the anniversary rounds of this contest to ghazals. The outcome has been gratifying. A large number of high quality ghazals were submitted by site members. I stopped the annual special ghazal round after I started a separate ghazal-sonnet contest.
3. Too many restrictions should not be placed upon the prompt. In my contest, writing a poem with syllabic constancy is, in itself, a difficult criterion to meet. For a few rounds, I gave a further specific prompt, such as a line of poetry that was to be used compulsorily. This resulted in a fall in the number of entries.
4. One should not allow more than one entry in each round. Earlier I allowed up to 3 entries each round. This resulted in too much work while judging. The task of judging which entry is best for an author should be handled by him.
5. With so many contests going around, a high prize money does help. The Rhyme ad Rhythm conest had a monthly prizeof 10,000 GP for a long time. About an year ago I reduced it to 5,000 GP because the writers of such poetry are not many and the number of participants decreased in this contest but increased in my second contest—The 5-star poetry contest.
6. Donors do pick up up a good contest and send donations on their own. In my contest, I have received a donation of 100,000 GP from a total stranger. Another sent 50,000 GP. Many others sent smaller amounts. Everybody wants to support a good and serious activity.
7. Visibility is a must to attract participants. I make it a point to ensure that my contest s always displayed on the contest listing page of wdc.
8. Contest announcement must be clear. There are many contests announced where the brief announcement even fails to mention whether the contest is for poetry or prose. Knowing that this is quite irritating and bothersome, I make it a point to give all necessary information in my brief announcement—nature of contributions (poetry); end date; prize amount; whether old items permitted etc.
9. My contests are liked by many participants because I send critical reviews for each entry. I am really surprised that there are many contests where the organisers don’t send any reviews.
10. The present situation is that all my three contests are attracting less participants. However, unlike many other contests, I have no policy of giving prizes only when there atr a minimum number of entries. For me a good and deserving poem is worth winning a prize even when it is the only entry. The reasons for decrease in the number of participants are as follows:
a—I am not able to spend much time on wdc because of other work. A contest must be constantly “worked upon” to get it going.
b—I have become more strict. I have started rejecting entries which do not comply with the rules.
C. LESSONS LEARNT FROM OTHERS’ CONTESTS—
I participate in many contests. Their various prompts are a constant stimulus to creativity. Sometimes, certain contests seem to have rather unnecessary rules or practices that tend to put off the contributors. I am listing below some of these irritants:
1. The worst thing I find in a contest is the lack of commitment on the part of the organizer to send a review for the entries received. Reward or no reward, the minimum that a contestant expects is a review from the organizer or judge.
2. Another thing that is irritating is too much rigidity. I have come across contests where the organizer, who had put a limit of 40 lines for poems, and wanted the contestant to state the number of lines in the post, reject the entry, a sonnet, because the number of lines was not stated. It certainly is not difficult for anyone to see that a sonnet has only 14 lines, not 40!
• Awarded 4th place and awardicon in “My impromptu contest”, 5 October 2004
M C Gupta
15 August 2003
Revised: December 2007, November 2011