I did the math on organizing a writing contest and wondered if I was sitting on a hidden goldmine; should I turn my career from writer to writing contest organizer?
First, I need a snazzy title, something like “The 30th Annual Emerging Writers Gold Awards Contest” (no need to worry about the prior 29 contests - perhaps, some fictitious names of winners in the previous three years would suffice).
Next, I need to have some handsome prizes: first prize $1500, second prize $1000, and third prize $500. The three winners may be offered a book contract from XYZ Publishing (XYZ will subsequently decline all three, but that comes later). Entrance fee is $15.00 per story, multiple entries are allowed. Entries are welcome from all over the world (in fact, the more remote the submitter is, the better). I think that should be a juicy enough offer.
Now, given that there are more writers than readers, and slush piles are overflowing with unread manuscripts, and self-publishing is flourishing but not quite respected, I would expect there to be at least 1000 submissions, which translates into $15,000 in revenue. And the costs would be $3000 in prize money (oh yes, you gotta pay for credibility’s sake), $500 for building a glitzy web site (and don’t forget to add a couple of pages on XYZ Publishing in case someone - meaning, everyone - checks) and $10 per month for web hosting. Oh, and a couple of hours of your time to (a) turf 975 manuscripts, and (b) pick 25 at random, scan them cursorily, pick the top three and the 12 also-rans, and garbage the rest. Let’s face it, everyone writes pretty good these days as we have a longer living, better-educated population, and because everyone has a story to tell. The net profit on this contest would be approximately $11,000 – plenty of upside even if the number of entries fall below 1000.
And the beauty of this scheme is that for a $5 increase in the entrance fee, I could afford to dole out $1000 more in prize money and still pocket an extra $4000. There is no audit and “the judges’ verdict is final.” The only person raising an eyebrow would be the poor mailman delivering all those submissions. And if I run one contest a month, I could earn a six figure income!
Now here’s the reality: I have no intention of becoming a writing contest organizer – let me make that very clear! And I do not wish to upset those organizers who run ethical contests with independent juries, fueled only with altruism towards discovering new talent and furthering literature. And I don’t have a problem with these organizers being fairly compensated for their efforts either. But realizing the potential for abuse, I place these financials before emerging writers who may be under the illusion that entering every contest under the sun is the way to fame and fortune.
At the end of the day, a good story will be told, writing contests notwithstanding.