27 November 2007

Going Electronic: Writing Contests

I just wound up our local RWA Chapter's first chapter contest as the coordinator. It was my first year to be the woman behind the curtain, and with a few small exceptions, the whole contest ran smoothly and was a great experience, hopefully for everyone involved. One of our final round judges even requested some full manuscripts, which is the best part of all. All that's left for me to do is to post our talented winners on the website and send them their prizes--and we give money, not jewelry!

There are so many RWA chapter contests right now. RWA chapters have to make enough funds to stay afloat, pay RWA dues, rent meeting space, etc., and contests are the moneymaker du jour. I tweaked ours in hopes of making it stand out. After the first-round finalists were announced, I expressed the scoresheets to them and offered to give any of the finalists who were interested a bonafide "Grammar Wenching" (that would be me) so they could use the scoresheets, my reactions, and their own gut to revise the entry one last time before we sent it to the final round judges--the industry professionals. Hey, two fulls got requested, so maybe our revision period benefitted them.

Anyhow, we're deciding how to improve our contest even more next year. I've already agreed to coordinate again, but there are more changes afoot. For next year our chapter is considering going electronic. I thought I'd bring some of the benefits and detractors to the Beyond the Veil cyber-table, since many of our bloggers and readers are quite familiar with the ins and outs of reading electronic fiction. But first, a few facts about our chapter so you'll understand what our constraints are:

1) The contest is our primary moneymaker aside from dues, and entries are down. We are faced with reducing services to members, primarily our awesome member retreat.

2) Although a small chapter, we use *all* in-chapter judges. This limits how many entries and categories we can have, but we decided this was a necessary evil. That way we can train all first round judges and we know where they LIVE *heh heh heh*.

3) We have a diverse membership, as do all chapters, from complete newbies, to a granny who writes some of the hottest erotica ever, to a lady minister, to a New York Times best-selling author or two.

4) We have 3 categories (contemporary, historical, paranormal), take 25 pages with no synopsis, and make an effort to find appropriate first-round judges if said entry has inspirational content, erotic content, or falls under "romantic elements" instead of straight romance.

So here are the pros and cons we have tossed around about going electronic:

Pros:

1) Saves trees -- paperless entries, maybe paperless responses

2) Saves money -- no postage, printing, etc.

3) Might increase the number of entries since many perceive electronic entry as "easier" or "quicker"

4) Many judges filled out their scoresheets on their computers, anyway

5) It has a hip/modern factor that might attract entrants who would not normally be attracted by our contest

6) I have wanted an excuse for an ultra-huge e-mailbox that can hold a lot more than the 10 MB my regular account allows, so I went ahead and got one. Ok, that's not really a "pro", that's just me being greedy.

Cons:

1) More chances of snafus with format incompatibility between entrant, contest coordinator, and judges

2) Some judges honestly do not enjoy reading on the computer, which means:
a) Will this reduce the number of judges in our limited pool? We don't want to go outside the chapter for judges.
b) Judges already volunteer their time and energy. Is it fair to ask ones who do not enjoy reading on the computer to use their paper and ink to print out the entries?
c) Conversely, is it too expensive for our chapter to print the entries for first-round judges who want to participate but don't enjoy reading on the computer (or can't for whatever reason)?

3) Might increase the number of poorly edited/sloppy entries since it is easier to pop off an email than print out the entry, sweat over the formatting, and find time to go to the post office

What I'm looking for, if you're willing to jump in, is a discussion of the pros and cons of a contest like ours going electronic, maybe a few new pros or cons we haven't considered. Then I can take a fully-fleshed proposal to our chapter board and we can decide what the best route for our chapter is.

Thanks for being my sounding board! (Oh, my local chapter is Music City Romance Writers, http://www.mcrw.com/.)

Jody W.
A SPELL FOR SUSANNAH--January 29, 2008, Samhain Publishing
http://www.jodywallace.com/ * http://meankittybox.blogspot.com/
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