December 23, 2003
MarkBernstein.org
 
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Contests

The trAce Online Writing Centre in Nottingham is running a New Media Writing Competition, with £100 prizes for various categories of articles on new media. It's good to see activity in new media, and good to see yet another journal working to encourage people to investigate possibilities and ask questions.

The place of contests and competitions in new media annals is, at best, mixed. Much of the time, you're entering a lottery where the prize is a publishing contract. In this case, by submitting work you're agreeing to buy a pig in a poke:

2. Prize-winners will be published on the trAce website. By entering the contest you agree to abide by a regular trAce writing contract, which will be provided to the competition winners and selected entrants only.

This seems a stiff price, considering that the winner will receive about twenty cents a word.

Now, economic realities might make this price the right price for trAce. But does it make sense to spend the money this way? £100 is nice, but it's not likely to change the life of the people who are likely to win this kind of prize. It's entirely possible that the money might mean a couple of tanks of petrol, or a nice dinner, or a couple of tickets to a play.

It seems to me that, if you're putting together a contest and you simply don't have any money to offer as a prize, you might be better off trying an old-fashioned approach. In the old days, you'd offer the winner a ceremonial dinner, with toasts and speeches, or you'd give them a nice piece of commemorative silverware. This would work today. Or, we might try a modern variant:

Just look at the last proposal. The cash goes to an artisan binder, helping to preserve a historic but under-appreciated craft. The essays can be written by staff, students, and colleagues -- this, after all, is what editors and scholars do. And serious criticism -- helping readers enjoy what the writer is doing -- is a very precious gift. You can't buy it. If any of the essays are good, they may make a terrific contribution to the writer's future.

Isn't that better than two pairs of jeans?