Organizing an essay contest can be fun, but it can also lead to a lot of pressure. Generally essay contests require a strict and straightforward set of guidelines. This way both the writers and judges will have a clear idea of what they're looking for, and ambiguity will be minimized. You also need to direct a lot of energy to actual planning, such as dates, promotion, fund raising, oversight, and prizes. With a little time and patience, though, you can organize a successful essay contest.
Determine the basic guidelines of the essay contest. Decide if there will be a theme, what the length criteria will be, and any other writing guidelines you believe are necessary for laying out the basic rules of the contest. Most essay contests give the writers a certain starting direction or initiative, such as a topic or category; like current events, childhood, or anything else broad enough to inspire creativity.
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Seek out some help in organizing the essay contest. Talk to friends and other parties who might be interested in volunteering to help out with the process. There are a lot of minor yet important parts of an essay contest that a volunteer can help with. These include mailings, entry fees, marketing and promotional materials such as websites, fliers or posters, and organizing prizes and a judge's panel.
Come up with a judge's panel. Try to seek out established writers or authors who will make confident and competent judges. Having good judges can greatly enhance the quality and popularity of an essay contest. It can also help with any fund raising you might be doing.
Decide on the prizes you'll be giving. Most essay contests either offer cash prizes or publication opportunities in magazines or anthologies. You can also offer trophies if you want, especially if this is a youth or amateur essay contest. It's a good idea to offer at least three main prizes plus some minor runner-up awards to generate more incentive and get more people involved.
Advertise and promote the essay contest ahead of time. Writers need to know about contests far in advance so they can plan accordingly and won't feel pressured or rushed. Advertise the essay contest on websites and in publications that attract a lot of aspiring writers and essayists. You can also put fliers in coffee shops and bookstores around town.
Write an official statement of the essay contest rules, regulations and prizes. If you have a website, post this statement on it. Otherwise, make it readily available to anyone who asks. This will help you avoid any ambiguity or future controversy over rules or stated guidelines.
Asking for two or more copies of the essays can facilitate the judging process. If you can conduct the essay contest entirely in digital format, you will save time, postage and waste. Offer to critique all the submitted essays in the contest, even those that don't win anything. Essays take a long time to write, and entrants will definitely appreciate the feedback.