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Point of View: Running a Successful Contest


Hey all,

We’re closing out the Queer Sci Fi Flash Fiction contest, and we’re about to get to the fun part – reading all the great entries that were submitted by y’all.

We have 166 in all, from a great variety of writers and covering the LGBTIQA spectrum and the full gamut of speculative fiction themes. Well, I assume they do. You see, I haven’t actually read any of them yet. I am very careful not to do so before we start the judging, as I am compiling the file. We judge these stories blind – without knowing the author names – because we don’t want to tie any particular author to any particular story. We judge them on the merits of the works alone.

But how did we get here? Two years ago, when we launched the first annual contest, we got a grand total of 15 stories. Last year, that jumped to 115. And this year, we’re almost 50% higher.


So I thought I’d share with you the secrets of running a great flash fiction contest.

1) Create A Cool Theme: If you want people to write something for you, you have to give them a great theme to work with, something that will inspire them. Our first year, it was “Endings”. Last year, it was “Discovery”. For our purposes, it also needed to be open ended and subject to a wide variety of interpretations. Angel came uo with this year’s theme – “Flight” – which fits this to a “T”. There are so many directions writers could go with this one: birds fly, and so do angels. A stairway is also called a flight of stairs. So is a sampling of wines. There’s space flight, flight from danger, an airplane flight… the list goes on and on.

2) Offer Good Prizes: For this contest, we decided to offer cash prizes in generous amounts, considering the length of the stories – $50, $30, and $20. That’s almost 17 cents a word for the winner. And everyone chosen for the book gets a copy of the eBook, too. One of my favorite moments in last year’s contest was when one of the authors came up to me and told me it was his first publication, and although he didn’t “win” the contest, he finally had something to show to his doubting friends and family that he was a Published Author.

3) Contact Folks Personally: I have made a point of meeting so many folks, both online and in RL, that write in the LGBTIQA speculative fiction market. I make a point of contacting each and every one individually when the contest starts. I invite them to enter and respond to all questions. The personal touch is important.

4) Facebook is Your Friend: There are a number of Calls for Submission groups out there now, as well as general promo groups. I set up a schedule to make the rounds to each one to invite folks to join our grand experiment, and it paid off in a great number of entries.

5) Wear Your Lucky Shirt: This one is more important than most folks realize. At the start of the contest, pick a lucky shirt. For this one, I chose my Powells Books shirt – for a writing contest, it seemed appropriate. Put it on. Now here’s the important part. DO NOT TAKE IT OFF until the contest is over, except to shower. This is key to the effectiveness of the lucky shirt – it can’t bring you luck if it is sitting in your laundry bin. You may also need to stock up on extra deoderant, FYI – you don’t want to be uncivilized, after all. Some people prefer lucky underwear, but IMHO that’s a step too far.

6) Be a Cheerleader: Let your adoring public know how the contest is going from time to time. Be excited! Remember my key phrase: “People get excited when you are excited, so if you want more contest entries, you should always be excited when talking about the contest to other people.” Or for ease of reference, “PGEWYAE,SIYWMCE,YSABEWTATCTOP” Use that easy to remember appreviation, and you’ll always be sure to fill others with enthusiasm for your contest endeavor.

7) Develop a Massive Spreadsheet (or Use a Cocktail Napkin): The important thing here is to keep track of the folks who said “maybe”, “probably”, or “yes”. Go back to them several times during the contest with words of encouragement and a reminder to get those entries in on time. Most of us writers are disorganized piles of goo, and having a (friendly) timely reminder is often really helpful.

8) Pick a Good Panel: We have a great one this year. I had initially considered going down to the local Starbucks and choosing five cute college guys at random (we do live near a University, after all), but my better sense prevailed. So we have three of us from the QSF “staff” – Angel, myself, and Ben), and the top three winners from last year (Carole, Aidee and Jenn). Winners will be chosen from a combination of point scores and the panel’s wisdom. A good panel means good results.

That’s about it. I am thrilled with the entries this year, and can’t wait to bring the winners to y’all, along with the second annual QSF flash fiction publication, Flight!

What will next year’s theme be? I’ll give you a hint. It will be a single word.

I really am terrible with this whole hint thing, aren’t I? ๐Ÿ˜‰

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