The Wrong Way to Enter Contests

When you enter a competition, do you put your heart into it? Do you really want to win? Or are you just feeling lucky and taking a halfhearted chance?

Recently, Daniel Smith of Smithereen’s Blog asked me to both sponsor his “Can You Put the Wit in Twitter” contest. He invited me and Dustin Wax to be entry judges. Cool. Sure. I can do that.

After a week or so, Daniel emailed me the list of entries so I could start making the cuts. I did… and stared at the blank page wondering what to do now. Entries were poorly written, stupid, not funny, not understandable or just incomprehensible. Some were written in language so abbreviated with netspeak that I wondered what planet the person came from. (Wen U rit lik this, U need 2 gt some srius help frm a tchr, K? This iz nt English.) Some were okay, but they were groaners.

Some that I thought might actually be worthwhile ended up being ripped off the ‘net. I check for those things, you know. Losers. Write your own goddamned work and don’t steal.

So I went back and chose an entry that I thought had merit. It was little bit of a groaner, it was witty enough, it was well written and showed that the person had put in effort. (It won first place, and I’m pleased.)

In short, I wasn’t judging for witty tweets anymore. I was judging for who actually gave the contest a shot.

This pisses me off in a big way. Contest sponsors donate all kinds of good stuff. They take the time to think, “What would winners like? What can they use? What could I offer to make this contest appealing?” (Or at least, they should think those questions. I’ll admit some don’t bother.)

When you do a half-ass job at an entry, the sponsor may feel disappointed. You didn’t really want his or her prize. You didn’t deserve to win. Seriously.

Then you have the person throwing the contest. That person was excited, happy and wanted to make things look good. A bunch of lackluster entries takes the wind right out of those sails. It puts the person in a position of embarrassment.

Then there are the judges, who volunteer their time to choose a winner. Sifting through entries saying, “Ugh, this is bad,” isn’t fun, people. It’s a case of having to choose the best of the worst. But of course, no one sees all the entries so everyone wonders why the judges chose something so boring or silly as the first prize winner.

I will say one thing – I had a blast judging with Daniel and Dustin. I made two new friends and we discussed Les Têtes à Claques, which country won the war of 1816, and how Quebecers were the most friendliest, nicest and pleasant people you’d ever meet.

(Well, at least that’s what I think Dustin meant when he mentioned the Faux French, the trouble with Canada and something about intellectual fortitude.)

The whole point of this post? If you’re going to enter a contest, put your heart into it. Don’t be stupid, don’t just fire something off the top of your head and show some respect for all the people who set up the contest, donated prizes and who have to spend time reading drivel.

Post by James Chartrand

James Chartrand is an expert copywriter and the owner of Men with Pens and Damn Fine Words, the game-changing writing course for business owners. She loves the color blue, her kids, Nike sneakers and ice skating.

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  1. Oh boy, it seems you only received a bunch of useless crap. We warned, don’t mess with James (just kidding – Not).

    On the upside it was all worth it since you met two nice new people. 😉

    Monika Mundell’s last blog post..Become A Better Writer With WhiteSmoke

  2. I usually like to think that you guys know what you’re doing, but a post like this seems a tad unnecessary. Or perhaps the way it’s approached. For those who actually DID put some heart and effort into it, it feels like you’re sitting there on a pedestal saying, “God, stop writing so sucky, guys! You’re wasting our time! Now we have to pick this lame entry as a winner. Thanks a lot.”

  3. Sounds like if someone creates a contest they better get two kind of judges:
    #1 a lot of people who weed out the crap and the stolen
    #2 a few good judges who just read the stuff which made it past judges #1

  4. Brett Legree says:

    James – I hear you.

    “Do, or do not. There is no try.”

    I’ve been a science fair judge a few times in the recent past, and it pained me to see 5 or 6 “Mentos in Diet Coke” experiments…

    Brett Legree’s last blog post..participant.

  5. I am laughing ( happily here) because at first I couldn’t figure out the photo…then its total cleverness hit me. Brilliantly sublime.

    Do you know there are “books” out now written totally in text? Crack for readers.

    Janice C Cartier’s last blog post..The 1 Thing Today

  6. I laughed out loud when I read the netspeak crap. That shit drives me insane, and you got it just right.

    At the same time, I hear the seriousness of this post, and it’s totally timely for me. This morning I spent two hours putting a lot of effort into a story I’m writing to enter our local newspaper contest. Out of those two hours I didn’t even get one page. It’s the first time I’m entering this annual contest and I’m taking it very seriously. I know this is a little different, perhaps, than being asked to come up with something short, but were I to just send in any old crap, I’d be wasting not only judges’ time but also readers’ time, as you mentioned, AND my own time. And I can’t imagine why I would do something so utterly unproductive and pointless. I want to win (though I admit I don’t even know what the prize is. Hang on…okay, it’s $100 gift certificate from one of two of their sponsoring stores). I’m actually not as much into the prize as the fact I might win and perhaps get this story published in the paper. That’s prize enough for me!

    steph’s last blog post..Fiction: Catharsis

  7. I’ve never entered any contests. But, it makes good sense that if one does, they should put all their effort into it. Skellie writes under the subheading – How to write popular posts: “Time spent on the post is more important than your talent.( ” I’m sure that’s debatable but it does underscore the importance of putting time and effort into your writing.

  8. My first thought, because I read through all the comments on my way to the comment box, is that those of us who create need to develop a special kind of skin. It needs to be strong enough to hold in our organs and bodily fluids when we are cut to shreds, yet permeable enough to allow emotions that will help to fuel better writing to flow through — both ways.

    As far as the contest entries, I believe it goes even further than contest entries. James’ last paragraph (“whole point”) applies to blog comments as well. Grape nuts aside, there’s something to be said for reading the post and making relevant comments. I saw one post asking for Twitter resumes for CEOs and celebrities — most comments were the writer’s own resumes.

    April, the Chief Cook & Bottle Washer’s last blog post..Eating Is Good For You…Who Knew?

  9. Steph – I can’t laugh at the “netspeak crap”. I dread the day that more web typos find their way into English (written and spoken). I cringe every time I hear my preteen and his friends conversing about “total pwnage” (pronounced ponage for those who are blessedly unaware). I foresee the complete downfall of spoken English in the near future. I mean netspeak, really, is like so totally grody to the max.

    James – Funny you mention checking for things “ripped off the ‘net”. Folks who’ll rip will rip from anywhere (yes, hard to check, I know). A guy wrote a song for me once — and didn’t I feel special. He mistakenly believed that I didn’t listen to country music…until the day he nearly broke his leg trying to get to my radio to change the station…. :)

    April, the Chief Cook & Bottle Washer’s last blog post..Eating Is Good For You…Who Knew?

  10. Yeah, that’s exactly what I meant! You Quebecoises are pretty smart!

    Actually, I want to become a Quebecois. But the damn Canadian government is all “Are you going to be a drain on society?” and I’m all “Hell, yeah — I thought that’s what you Canadians are all about!” and they’re like “Come back when you have wads and wads of cash.”

    *Canadian* cash — like I can afford that.

  11. They may have also been offended by one little slip-up. How was I supposed to know that pouting and putain meant two separate things?

  12. Er, that’s “poutine”…

    Spelling: It’s not for everyone.

  13. Amen. Not that I have any massive revelations on my own personal blog, but that’s not its purpose. As a part-time programmer I feel that the English language is a code with syntax that we should use with purpose; and if we screw with it, then do it with style and purpose. You’re right there is a lot of crap out there, but more than not I’ve found lots of good stuff.

    BTW… I’ve learned a lot from this site.


  14. Ooh lots of new faces – welcome!

    @ Rachel – Good comparison with the code and I agree.

    @ Dustin – Not to be confused with poontang, of course.

    @ April – Okay guys who rip off songs to win girls… no. No no no.

    @ Bamboo – Indeed! Make it worth the trouble at least!

    @ Janice – Aye, our photo selector Harry makes fine choices indeed :)

    @ Brett – Or an expose on the life of rabbits?

    @ Pacheco – Well, if there was effort… it was damned hard to spot. Sorry if I tromped on anyone’s feelings, though.

    @ Sam – Don’t forget the judges who sit back and nod in approval!

    @ Monika – Yup. Daniel and Dustin were pretty cool indeed.

  15. John Hoff - eVentureBiz says:

    You know what’s worse than having to read through contestant’s entires that are barely readable?

    Your customer’s emails.

    John Hoff – eVentureBiz’s last blog post..Google’s ReadAir Allows You To Read Your RSS Feeds Like Emails

  16. John Hoff - eVentureBiz says:

    * sorry, I meant customer’s emails that are poorly written like mentioned in this post and you can’t figure out for the life of you what they want (and neither can they).

    John Hoff – eVentureBiz’s last blog post..Google’s ReadAir Allows You To Read Your RSS Feeds Like Emails

  17. @April: So that’s how you pronounce it! Thanks, I’ve been wondering about that for a while. 😉

  18. Brett Legree says:


    LOL… how did you know?

    Brett Legree’s last blog post..participant.

  19. @ April: Oh, I know!! I agree and it’s why I edit for a living: I try to fight the good fight. I laughed because James got it exactly right!

    steph’s last blog post..Fiction: Catharsis

  20. I guess at one extreme there’s the people who put little thought into what they do (the “Mentos in Diet Coke” experiments mentioned in a previous comment says it all), and at the other extreme there’s the perfectionists who are never sure that what they do is good enough for others to see, no matter how much effort they put into it. We should all strive to do our best and trust that our best is good enough.

    Marelisa’s last blog post..Decide What You Want

  21. I second that emotion.

    I was one of the judges for a Mensa scholarship contest a couple of years ago. It was better than what you’re describing, since most of them were very well done, but there were definitely a handful of the “I care so little about this that I won’t even re-read what I wrote to see if it makes sense” sort. Some were bad enough to be laughable but, for the most part, they were just hard to force yourself to finish, and annoying as all get out.

    Carole’s last blog post..Twitter Updates for 2008-06-23

  22. “bit of a groaner”? Okay, you’re right.

    For the record, I tweeted the tweet before the contest – not even KNOWING about the contest – and Daniel saw it and asked me to submit. So as far as composing FOR a contest, that doesn’t apply in this case, but I get your point.

    I don’t really submit to contests. I’m SO NOT competitive. I have some stuff on Helium that made about six cents, and I haven’t been back there in a month.

    I do buy the occasional lottery ticket though. Go figure.

    RhodesTer’s last blog post..WHOA, like..

  23. @ Rhodester – I was surprised to find out the story about your entry after it won. And pleased – it was the most natural sounding one that made a good play on words.

    Did you win that lottery though?

  24. @James – Nope, no lottery. You’ll know it when I do.

    RhodesTer’s last blog post..VLOG! yes, VLOG

  25. Because you’ll send me money or because you’ll cackle with glee and lord it over me?

    Wait, don’t answer that.

    On a side note, why don’t Canadian lotteries pay out like U.S. ones? I mean… DAMN. You guys have ROCKING lotteries.

  26. Oh YEAH, they pay off big, but we never win them. The only people who win are security guards and Walmart clerks in Garden Grove and Fresno.

    Rhodester’s last blog post..VLOG! yes, VLOG

  27. James,

    Wow, you weren’t lying when you said you were going to lay the smack down!

    Personally, I thought the contenders we all agreed on were pretty darn good. Also, I think that effort does count for something – there were many, many people who knew about the contest but were too self-conscious to enter at all, you know? In any case, perhaps the fault is mine – maybe I should have given a clearer description of what wordplay is… lol Anyway, thanks for judging with Dustin, it was a lot of fun getting to know you both.

    Oh, and by the way, the Surete du Quebec called and they asked if I knew anything about a frenchman burning down several english homes in Hawkesbury on St-Jean. What should I tell them?


    Daniel Smith’s last blog post..What If There Were No Hypothetical Questions? 25 Clever Carlin Quotes (A Wordplay Wednesday Tribute)

  28. @ Daniel – Heh. I always call it like it is, and sometimes people need a good butt kicking.

    Tell the SQ to talk to the RCMP… that should tie them up for a few years 😉

  29. Always, shooting from the hip, of course!

    I’ll see what I can do to get the SQ off your trail…

    Daniel Smith’s last blog post..What If There Were No Hypothetical Questions? 25 Clever Carlin Quotes (A Wordplay Wednesday Tribute)

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