Get Your Nose Out of The Air and Relax

brat.jpg“Daddy! Daddy! My school is having a contest for the most beautiful picture ever! I’m going to draw a unicorn… and a castle… and a princess… you can be the prince. Okay, Daddy?”

You take the sheet your daughter excitedly brandishes. It’s a contest the school is promoting. The municipality wants a new logo and they’ll choose one from students in the region who participate.

What do you do? Do you encourage your daughter, hand her crayons and tell her what a great artist she is? Or do you crumple the sheet, toss it in the garbage with a snort and say…

“Sorry, honey. This is spec work. Your school should be ashamed. If they wanted your drawing, they should have given you money. You can’t enter. We don’t support spec work in this house.”

That’s exactly the attitude of many commentators at Freelance Switch in a recent “scandal.” Frankly, I’m disgusted.

Jonathan Fields is publishing his upcoming book with Random House. He thought it might be nice to hold a contest for the book cover design. He never imagined he’d be raked over hot coals for doing so.

Freelance Switch posted the rules to Jonathan’s contest on their blog. Most of their readers are designers. The admin at FS thought it was a nice opportunity.

Well, readers were outraged. They bashed, they flamed, they stuck their noses in the air. They claimed Jonathan and FS were promoting spec work. They were insulted and offended. They raged. They demanded that FS recant their position and remove the posting.

Jonathan was faster. He canceled his contest. And I think that’s a bloody shame.

Now, I’m not a graphic designer. Maybe I was missing something. I couldn’t believe the poor behavior displayed by FS commentators, but maybe they had good reason.

So I asked Harry (who is a graphic designer with 20 years experience) to have a read and tell me what he thought.

“I’m disgusted,” he answered after a long silence. “That’s disgraceful behavior.”

I asked whether he felt Jonathan’s contest involved spec work. No, he answered. There were no calls for spec work. It was a contest, pure and simple. Submit a great design and get a shot at winning the coveted honor.

No participation required. No loss to those who don’t participate, and no particular gain besides bragging rights for those who do.

That’s how a contest should work, right?

Both of us were upset by the nasty, snobbish comments at FS. They were rude in nature and directed at both FS admin and Jonathan. How DARE Jonathan throw a contest!? He should offer 10,000$ instead!

Good lord. How greedy can you get?

Commentators questioned people’s integrity. They made accusations, lashing judgments and sweeping, slanderous statements.

Since when have people become so mistrustful that a simple contest offering a bit of fame becomes a bad thing? Since when have people become so lofty that if money isn’t involved, it isn’t worth the effort?

As far as I’m concerned, the whole comment section at FS was a huge display of snobbish arTEESTic behavior. And I’m so down on arTEESTe it isn’t funny.

But I’m a writer. What do I know of spec work in the design industry?

I do know this: I don’t write free samples for potential buyers. Spec work, to me, is saying, “Write three articles and I’ll choose the one I like best and pay you for it.” No. Spec work, to me, is saying, “Write a sample for free and if I like it, I’ll buy it.” No.

I also have half a brain and can tell the difference between a scam and an honest contest.

A contest is, “Will you be the next Stephen King? Enter our contest and write 100 words. We’ll choose the best entry and the winner receives a free book publishing contract!” Hell, I’d take a shot at that. It’s a pastime. It’s a hobby. It’s a chance. Sheesh.

Entering a contest is a personal choice. If you’re interested and it feels legit, go for it. So what if you aren’t paid? No one pays people to enter contests. Have we all become so shallow that taking a chance at opportunity isn’t worth it if there isn’t money involved?

You might win something more valuable to you than money – ever think of that?

And if you don’t want to enter? Then don’t. It’s that simple.

Don’t brandish pitchforks and burning sticks to the point that you tear down someone’s good will. Don’t start ripping people apart and treating them badly. Don’t judge people’s intentions because of a bad experience you’ve had or because of a select few that walk the dark side.

Making good, honest people out to be thieves is slanderous. What I saw on FS reminded me of a stoning. It was terrible.

I feel bad for Jonathan. Here’s a guy with great intentions trying to offer something fun for everyone. He felt his contest was an opportunity for many people to relax, be creative, loosen up and have some fun trying their luck. The winner would get a little bit of fame.

Plenty of designers were thinking of entering. Why wouldn’t they? A book cover is great bragging rights.

Now they can’t. The FS arTEESTEs brought the whole contest down. Congratulations, people. I hope you’re happy that you wrecked something with the potential to be good because all you could see were dollar signs. I hope you’re happy that Jonathan probably walked around all day feeling like an absolute shit.

For the rest of the people out there who just forgot how it feels to be on the receiving end of a hurtful comment, try this:

The next time you’re about to slam out some indignant comment, put the keyboard down before you hurt someone.

Get both sides of the coin. Do some critical thinking. Use your brains. Toss in some humanistic perception and remember that most people aren’t out to get you or screw you over.

Oh, and in case you’re wondering, my toddler has entered plenty of Crayola-inspired drawing contests. In my household, we promote personal achievement and opportunity. What values do you promote in yours?

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. I saw the original contest posting by Jonathan, and since I’m not at all a designer, I didn’t really pay much attention. Then I saw the articles on FS and Jonathan’s followup, and I had a similar reaction. Things like this make me sad. I understand the outrage at people who ask for work samples and then use them without paying the artist/creator, but as you said, this isn’t anywhere near that sort of thing!

    On the other hand, SOME contests can be rightly construed as something similar to spec work. I entered a scholarship contest a few years back… I didn’t win and I really don’t know if they ever actually announced the winner, but they still used my poem in their book, which they certainly made money off of! Yeah, it was back when I was a bit more naive. Stupid thing to do, but perhaps a contest more deserving of the flaming.

    On the topic of hateful and mean comments, I’ve had my share of them, and while none of them were bad enough to change my actions (like make me cancel a contest), some of them did hurt, a lot. Luckily I’ve learned that the anonymity of the internet leads people to say things they might not otherwise say, and most of the people often don’t even read the post in question.

    On a similar note, it almost shocks me (almost, because I’ve been on the internet long enough to know better) how mean people can get out of nowhere! I was doing an online experiment for one of my classes today, and two of the people in the chat room were just going at each other over a stupid little comment! It’s just ridiculous. I really don’t understand people sometimes.

    Speaking of contests for the youngsters, my elementary school used to have a kite decorating contest every year. I remember covering kites with sequins every year… the sight of sequins still brings back memories! 😀

    Allison’s last blog post..Feisty Tuna Roll

  2. I laughed out loud at your hypothetical conversation with your daughter!

    I think it’s ridiculous that Jonathan was treated that way. I imagine the same designers who reacted negatively to his generous competition wouldn’t think twice about submitting their designs to somewhere like Threadless, who make millions of dollars every year on the back of ‘spec work’ (and pay much less for the designs they do use).

    I’ve entered several design competitions over the years. On the couple of occasions when I’ve actually won something, it’s been a massive boost for my self confidence and portfolio, and has led to job offers and new work. When I’ve lost or been a runner-up, I’ve always learnt something in the process. Competitions are great because, in reality, everyone’s a winner!

  3. I guess you can work for love, or you can work for money, or something in between.

    A, B, or C.

    I didn’t read any of the comments on this, so this is my uninformed opinion.

    But it seems to me that anyone who would be upset with a request to enter a “for fun” contest, with a chance for some free publicity, is only concerned with Option B.

    I mean, come on. I am certainly not a graphic designer, I know nothing about drawing, and *I* probably would have entered this contest.

    Maybe for some of these people who complained, graphic design has ceased to be a passion, and only a job.


    Brett Legree’s last blog post..subterranean self worth.

  4. What a very sad experience indeed.

    One of the things I try to teach my kids is, whenever you’re unhappy with what’s being said, tell the other person, thank you for your input….and leave it at that. There’s no need for insults, there’s no need for back-biting, there’s no need for trying to tear another’s person’s honest ideas to shreds. I empathize with what happened to Jonathan.

    I’ve been online now since 1988 and it just goes to show; Netiquette is still a dying art. 🙁

    Best wishes,


    Barbara Ling’s last blog post..Seize Your Perfect Domain Name via The Owlbert Way! Day 2 of 5

  5. @Barbara: Seriously, that was my first thought too. If nobody wanted to do it, all they had to do was politely say “Thanks, but no thanks” and leave it at that.

    @Just a quick note to everyone: James won’t be around today. I swear he does it to me on purpose when he posts potentially flammable topics. I’m the only one minding the fort today, so please, don’t burn it down. 🙂

  6. How pathetic. Hey, I tout incessantly the need for professionals to get paid for their work, but there’s a very clear delineation between working on spec and a contest. Sheesh indeed.

    There’s a clear indication here that this is a contest. We’ve all entered contests. We know someone’s gonna win and a lot more someones are gonna lose. No-brainer scenario. It sounded like a fun one, too. That people found it offensive just floors me. The man wasn’t offering employment. He was holding a contest in hopes that some lucky person would be able to nail his concept and the two of them would enter into a formal arrangement. Where the hell is the harm in that?

  7. @ Harry, don’t worry, if things start to get out of hand, I’m here to help out… or at least bury everything under a comment onslaught, heh heh 🙂

    Brett Legree’s last blog post..subterranean self worth.

  8. Well done James.

    First of all, I’d like to say that I’m all for Jonathan’s contest and I think it’s a shame it was canceled. I was going to participate!

    But, I’d also like to eject another side to the story…just for arguments sake.

    Here’s what I wrote over at Bob Torres’ blog:

    “Honestly though, I don’t see the big problem. The publisher has a ton of cover designers on call and they could, of course, go that route but Jonathan decided to offer the chance to have someone design a book cover for Random House who would have otherwise not had a chance to. I agree, it’s most likely a ploy to gain interest in the upcoming book, but what if it’s not?

    I certainly don’t really agree with spec work, but those of us that don’t need to do work like this, well…don’t need to. However, those that find this to be a great opportunity for them, whatever the reason, will undoubtedly be the ones that participate.

    However, if people see this and begin to take this route as the norm, then that would most definitely be a smash in the face to designers in general. So, I guess I agree with it as a once in a blue moon kind of fun contest type thing, but as a normal way of doing things…never.”

    I think people are scared when contests like this come about. If word goes around that stuff like this works, it might become the new way of getting work done.

    However, a contest once in a while is fun for all I think. So, tuck in your noses all you haters.

    Great post/rant James.

    Jay Francis Hunter’s last blog post..Disruptive Writing: Experimentation to Innovation

  9. I’m a freelancer and I would enter the contest even if first prize was the spend 3 hours on Jonathan’s new treadmill. Every good idea will have it’s opposition. I have not read all the blogs about the contest but I’m sure a lot of the negatives are from people who have experienced, well, the negative aspects of the freelance design world. Maybe I’m still a newbie and naive about this. But if i want to hold a fun contest, say, send in your dog’s best art project, no brushes or mouse work, only paws. I guess i’ll get hammered too…

  10. James,

    I watched this unfold over at FS after another designer told me about it, and it was a horrible train-wreck of a situation.

    The thing that kills me is, design contests are normal and everywhere. The people howling about it over at FS are IMHO, not professionals if they don’t know this, or to be kinder, they haven’t been around very long. Paper companies, Internet firms, and anybody trying to get a lot of buzz, a few new converts to their product/service, and oh yeah, a new design for something. We’re all free to ignore if we so choose. I don’t have time for that sort of thing too often, but if the challenge is cool and the opportunity to talk it up is there, I take a look.

    Last year, we did a landing page for SEOmoz (you can read about it here, and there’s plenty of talk about it on SEOmoz’s blog, too). Not only did they do a lot of publicity on their site, but we also worked it at our site to bring in visitors, win or lose, and it was so novel that it’s still being talked about now (as recently as last week it was mentioned in the comments of another blog I read).

    If you don’t win, you still own your work and can talk the process up as much as you want; if you win, bragging rights are what you make of them, even if prizes are minimal. This is publicity for you, people, not just for Jonathan Fields! We’ve had way more eyeballs on pages from that one competition than if SEOmoz had been an actual client.

    I’ll stop now before I get too heated.

    BTW, my daughter enters them all. She always thinks it’s rigged if she doesn’t win!



    Kelly’s last blog post..How to Stick Out Like an Aging Seattle Grunge Band

  11. Still thinking about this.

    There’s a difference between a contest that votes on the best cover design and one that asks people to design a cover for free. This contest was the later, and that is what made this particular contest upsetting to most designers.

    Jay Francis Hunter’s last blog post..Disruptive Writing: Experimentation to Innovation

  12. True, I don’t particularly have a problem with contests, like I said, I wanted to enter, but, I could definately see how the later type of contest could be insulting to the professional community. If I wrote a book I could: a.) hire someone whos work I enjoy for $1000 and get only a few design options or b.) hold a contest and get a ton of options then give $1000 to the one I like best. Option b looks awesome for the person putting out the book but pretty shitty for the designer who needs to pay the bills with his/her work.

    Ps excuse the spelling and style mistakes, I’m writing this on my phone. Yay, technology.

    Jay Francis Hunter’s last blog post..Disruptive Writing: Experimentation to Innovation

  13. Random house is a pretty big publishing company, and chances are this would have gotten more press than it already has, and if word gets out that this is an acceptable way of getting design work done, then that could spell trouble for people not quite as talented who still need to make ends meet.

    Jay Francis Hunter’s last blog post..Disruptive Writing: Experimentation to Innovation

  14. @Lori: Yes, there is a very clear line between contests and spec work. People are forgetting that. I thought that was very generous to share his good fortune with the rest of us. Random House could have pulled from any number of designers they have in house to do the cover, but they decided not to. I know in the world of publishing, publishing houses very rarely, if ever, allow outside artists to take care of their covers.

    One thing I remember from my days at the university was from a course on illustrating children’s books. We were told that publishing houses hardly ever take teams of writers and artists who want to collaborate on a children’s book. I thought that was pretty crappy and it always stuck in my mind. Maybe things have changed since then, I don’t know.

    @Sharon: I was set to enter that myself. In a way, I’m glad it was canceled – I could feel the mental pressure building up already! 🙂

    @Brett: *hands him a fireman’s hat and a bucket* Just in case.

    @Jay: Agreed. There is always one person who ruins it for the rest of us by deciding to cut corners.

  15. Except for one thing—99.99% of those people already weren’t making ends meet with Random House’s money, and here was a chance for them to be seen by a company who’d never give them the time of day otherwise. If somebody’s got that many billable hours filled that they’re concerned about eating into profits, do it on their free time or don’t do it. One guy wanted an exception to the way RH usually does things. They weren’t trying to change how they do business.

    Kelly’s last blog post..How to Stick Out Like an Aging Seattle Grunge Band

  16. First, let me say I am rapidly becoming a huge fan of Men with Pens because of your refreshingly candid commentary!

    Second, thank you for this post. I saw the contest and the diatribe at FS and, having entered a writing contest earlier this year, felt a little … well, stupid, at least for a moment or two, because I would have entered the contest just for the chance at the fame. The chance to get my name out there is worth something to me.

    Cindy Dashnaw’s last blog post..If corporate philanthropy can bring world peace, shout about it

  17. True Kelly, I agree. I think there’s room for all, I’m just trying to hash out both sides of the story. Oh, and I was talking more about RH’s influence rather than the company itself.

    Jay Francis Hunter’s last blog post..Disruptive Writing: Experimentation to Innovation

  18. @Cindy: That’s good to hear, when you first commented here in defense of Tony I thought we’d be off to a rocky start, but you’re way cool and I’m glad to see you here.

    Don’t feel stupid. It’s all the nay-sayers and rabble-rousers causing problems over at FS and for Jonathan who should be feeling stupid.

  19. Just to stubbornly (but politely) assert my original point one more time: design competitions are being run all the time in various industry niches. This is not news and therefore can’t change the landscape for designers. It apparently opened the eyes of a lot of “freelancers” with Illustrator installed on their PCs who would like to call themselves designers. It’s not news and not precedent.

    I own a pen but I don’t call myself an essayist, and if the New York Times ran a competition for the best essay on Eliot Spitzer’s icky situation and offered a byline YOU BET I’m gonna enter, and I’m not gonna complain that they’re getting to see my work for free, or that they’re “using” me. Neither would the 2500 real writers who’d enter in a heartbeat for the chance at seeing their name in the NYT.



    Kelly’s last blog post..How to Stick Out Like an Aging Seattle Grunge Band

  20. @Jay: Even so, a contest is a contest. There are rules and fine print, you read it and make sure both parties are clear on what’s expected and what happens with the entries after all is said and done. If it’s not for you (speaking in the general meaning of “you”), then don’t enter. Right?

  21. Oh and a P.S.

    Spec work is when a prosepective client asks you to do the work and then they’ll let you know if it’s what they want. Spec work is BAD news, because the answer will be “no,” yet your work will somehow “flavor” the solution they do come up with….

    If you enter a design (writing, singing, film, dance… knitting…) contest, the contest holder is NOT a prospect. They don’t even know you, or care. They are going to choose a winner, not flavor their own ideas with yours, because that’s the deal they made. Not spec work.

    If you don’t win you are alone in a room again, but you can… blog about it , send press releases about it, crow about what good things your work did do, and generally find lots of ways to profit from that work you did in your off-time, maybe even more than the winner did.

    Until later,


    Kelly’s last blog post..How to Stick Out Like an Aging Seattle Grunge Band

  22. I agree w. James – a contest is a fairly straight-forward ordeal. If you don’t agree with it, walk away.

    @Jay – thanks for your thoughts on what the designers were thinking. I don’t think that they had a right to be rude (if they were indeed rude), but I can see how the idea of a contest can be offensive. I know that in the fiction and poetry world, contests get pretty shady and I steer clear of them.

    @Harry – I’m sure that you have nothing to worry about, flame-wise 🙂 It seems as though this blog attracts a p. respectful community.

    RLD: Taekwondo Happiness’s last blog post..Update

  23. Man, I could go back and fourth on sides for hours, but when it all comes to a halt, the fact is, I enjoy contests and I’m upset Jonathan had to cancel this one.

    Jay Francis Hunter’s last blog post..Disruptive Writing: Experimentation to Innovation

  24. Harry, I thought you took James’ lighter away last weekend?

    Kelly’s last blog post..How to Stick Out Like an Aging Seattle Grunge Band

  25. Contest: I’ll give $200 to the person who can get Jonathan and Random House to reinstate.

    Who’s with me?

    Jay Francis Hunter’s last blog post..Disruptive Writing: Experimentation to Innovation

  26. Don’t leave the front door unlocked on days when he’s going to be “out.” How far from just past nowhere, Quebec, to LV?

    Kelly’s last blog post..How to Stick Out Like an Aging Seattle Grunge Band

  27. Ooh, paying to be in the contest… we could bust FS’s server with that suggestion.


    Kelly’s last blog post..How to Stick Out Like an Aging Seattle Grunge Band

  28. @Harry: I can see that Tony may need a fan club after all. Sign me up! 😉

    Cindy Dashnaw’s last blog post..If corporate philanthropy can bring world peace, shout about it

  29. Ok James, I dare you. ;o)

    Haha Kelly, that would be hilarious.

    Jay Francis Hunter’s last blog post..Disruptive Writing: Experimentation to Innovation

  30. We have lighters down here in DE too…

    Kelly’s last blog post..How to Stick Out Like an Aging Seattle Grunge Band

  31. @ Harry – I’m your man in red! But as RLD says, I don’t think you’ll have anything to worry about… everyone here “gets it

    (adjusts his fireman’s hat)

    Brett Legree’s last blog post..subterranean self worth.

  32. @Kelly – What you say is v. true. However, if word gets out that designers are willing to short-change themselves, it could give other potential employers ideas.

    I’m thinking of it this way: a bassoon has a limited range and as an instrument, it really doesn’t belong playing in higher ranges. However, some contemporary composers think they’re so smart and stick notes in a range that the bassoon doesn’t even have fingerings for! Instead of telling the composer “fat chance”, some bassoonist jerk faked fingerings to make it work. Now everyone thinks that range is acceptable. If that jerk would have just said “no fingerings”, bassoonists wouldn’t be so screwed in concert band.

    If a person doesn’t say “no” right off the bat, they may be setting a precedent. I’m sure that the people at FS saw the worst-case scenario of what could happen in the future and just didn’t want to get stuck in an impossible situation. I could be wrong, but that’s my take on the situation 🙂

    RLD: Taekwondo Happiness’s last blog post..Update

  33. @RLD: I never considered that. Very good point. I have to laugh though, just try doing something like that in the dojo and see how many knuckle push-ups that earns you!

  34. @Harry – Haha, good call! Unfortunately, I would get through 1 1/2 before I would fall over! 😀

    RLD: Taekwondo Happiness’s last blog post..Update

  35. I hope he puts the contest back up again. I was honestly thinking of joining it and already had some ideas in mind.

    As a designer, I have also been burned by “spec” work before. It was a tough pill to swallow but, at the end, it was very rewarding. I learned how to deal with clients better as well as love my chosen profession more.

    This probably wasn’t the case with all the designers that posted those nasty comments. They must have not gotten over what happened to them in past and took it out on Jonathan’s contest.

    So to them, let the past go folks. Don’t ruin another contest like this. Give chance to other designers, especially new ones, to participate and have fun while they’re at it.

    JR’s last blog post..Juno

  36. I agree with Kelly. If Random House offers to let me skip all the usual hoops one has to jump through to get its notice (i.e., by entering a contest), then I’m going to do it. One still assumes that to win, one has to have talent and thus will have earned the recognition.

    Cindy Dashnaw’s last blog post..If corporate philanthropy can bring world peace, shout about it

  37. Beautiful email James.

    We should set up a pledge pool, and if Jonathan reinstates, we could donate the money pledged to some charity. If he doesn’t, we could… Blow up parlaiment?

    Just thinking out loud.

    Jay Francis Hunter’s last blog post..Disruptive Writing: Experimentation to Innovation

  38. See, now, I wasn’t going to enter, I was just watching the unbelievable firestorm, but if he does put it back up I’ll have to come up with something to show support.

    James, you rock as usual.

    Kelly’s last blog post..How to Stick Out Like an Aging Seattle Grunge Band

  39. @Kelly: The sneaky bastard keeps getting it back.

  40. @Jay: I bet James will take you up on that. All you have to add to that sentence is “I dare you” and he’ll be all over it like white on rice.

    @Kelly: About 3,000 miles

  41. Sounds good, I’ll match.

    Jay Francis Hunter’s last blog post..Disruptive Writing: Experimentation to Innovation

  42. Whew, a lot of comments to catch up on, and thank you to everyone for keeping the conversation a civil, polite and productive debate. I honestly had worries, as I’ve been known to set a blog on fire like a Molotov cocktail.

    @ Jay – I’m in if you’re in. I’m not doing this alone.

    To all: I think that people have to stand up and fight for what is good without always seeing the potential negative. Maybe Jonathan worded his contest poorly; I don’t know.

    My personal values tell me that if my girls ever want to enter a competition to see if they can win something so they feel better, more confident, learn about not being first, or get a little fame, they shall, with my strong support. There is nothing wrong with what Jonathan proposed, in my eyes, and there was no reason for him to be manipulated into a forced back down with what he felt was right and good to begin with.

  43. @ Kelly & Harry,

    3000 miles or not, if you laid eyes on how much snow is out where James lives – it will take him a month of Sundays to dig out of that… yikes!

    (unless, of course, he uses his lighter, and a string of Muttered French Curses)

    Brett Legree’s last blog post..subterranean self worth.

  44. Email sent from James to Jonathan

    Hi Jonathan,

    First of all, my sympathies on the bad time you’re having lately, and you have my full support. I’ve been flamed like hell before, and I know it’s a terrible, terrible experience. I wish it didn’t have to happen.

    I’ve also blogged about it today at Men with Pens. If you’d like to come over and read, I think you’ll find a lot of support from a really great crowd of people – and Harry and other designers included:

    What I initially just ranted about to get people to wake up has turned into a very positive, productive conversation, and I have a lot of commentators that wished you’d reconsider your position, me included.

    We feel that you really should stick up for what you felt was good and right. I think you were badly manipulated into taking action that doesn’t set a good precedence. Would you tell your daughter not to enter a drawing contest in class because it was spec work? Don’t you want to set forth good values for her and show that the world is a nice place to be, and that not everyone is a sneaky bastard out to take advantage of people?

    Put the contest back up. Change it if you want, based on feedback you’ve received, but come on, Jon. Don’t back down. You have strong, good integrity and I see no reason to let people shove you into a disappointing position that goes against what you knew was a very okay thing to do in the first place.

    Let me know your thoughts, or come post them on the blog. I’ll be posting this email there as well for readers to openly see where I stand.

  45. @ James – that was a really awesome email you sent to Jonathan. I don’t even know how to draw, but if he does put the contest back up, *I’ll* enter a submission out of principle.

    Brett Legree’s last blog post..subterranean self worth.

  46. This is so weird. I just wrote something about my daughter! I haven’t posted it yet though. I swear we are on the same wavelength.

    What I do or don’t:
    I don’t pay to enter contests.
    Plenty of art materials around the house.
    Never try to impose my creative will on anyone.

    My daughter is a terrific artist. It’s in the genes.

    @Allison – I don’t understand people either. But usually it is an ego thing. And unfortunately, egos grow bigger with age. Like ears.

    Ellen Wilson’s last blog post..Time is Passing Me…Please Buy!

  47. But the Parliament buildings in Ottawa are really pretty… Anyone willing to start up a pledge pool, I’m in for $50 and I nominate the Canadian Alzheimer’s society for my dad.

  48. James – count me in too, for the same charity. You rock… 🙂

    Brett Legree’s last blog post..subterranean self worth.

  49. @JR: I think everyone just starting out gets burned by spec work. It’s one of those things they don’t really teach you about in school, and unfortunately by the time you’ve learned the lesson, it’s too late. Such is the way of experience.

  50. The charity thing is a really good idea. But can you pull everyone together? I would help you out.

    Ellen Wilson’s last blog post..Time is Passing Me…Please Buy!

  51. When I was in elementary school, I did a Christmas art project, and entered it in a contest. I was one of a few winners, and as a prize, we got to take a whole day off school and paint the windows at a local shopping center. I’m pretty sure that was the shopping center getting work for free. However, I and my fellow winners did not mind one bit.

    I was actually thinking of entering Jonathan’s contest when I first read about it on FreelanceSwitch. A lot of the comments had me thinking twice, and I started questioning whether the contest was a means to get spec work.

    Having said that, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with a contest, unless it involves someone trying to get free work out of people. When a school or non-profit runs a contest like this, they do not stand to gain a profit. Jonathan was going to award the winner with a hefty sum of money. It’s the contests where you get an honorable mention and the contest holders stand to gain from your efforts that I try to watch out for.

    Melissa Donovan’s last blog post..Reading Break

  52. Hey James,

    Thanks for the encouragement and support, but its time for me to move on, my friend.

    It’s not so much a matter of backing down, but rather trying to stand in another’s shoes, understanding and even sympathizing with another point of view, knowing what’s most important to me, personally, and devoting my energy to where I believe it’s needed most.

    I can’t speak for anyone else, they are not me. But, right now, my energy is best spent on the many really positive pursuits that, even before this, vied for nearly every waking moment of my time.

    Thanks, again, for your kindness, your friendship and support.

    I need to pass on joining in the conversation personally for all the same reasons. Please feel free to post a copy of my response to your letter in the comments.

    And, again, thanks so much for your kindness, it’s been a heck of a few days and it’s really nice to know you’ve got friends.


  53. Allison,

    I hope Canadians (and others) are subjected to just as much junk as we are. I wouldn’t like to think we’re bogarting all the “reality” contest stuff.

    Don’t forget The Apprentice, ANTM, Top Chef, Project Runway, Design Star, that inventor one ( I forget the name)… some say Michael Kors is getting “inspired” by Project Runway, I think it’s the other way around but certainly he’s got his eyes open for new perspectives. TCM did a guest host thing this year and I’ll bet they were looking for more ideas than just what the top guy produced. It’s part of what happens. How naive would I be if I didn’t assume that win or lose, SEOmoz would learn something from each of us semifinalists (and maybe even from the stuff that didn’t make the cut)? I learned something from taking on the project, too. I learned that too many nights up until 2 am to do it in my off time makes a cranky Kelly, for one thing…

    Paper companies in particular would hardly ever put out a capabilities brochure without contests just like this one we are discussing, and there are lots of other directly related examples.

    Ahh, see now I’m getting heated again. *Edits out three sentences.* What utter nonsense the poor guy was put through.



    Kelly’s last blog post..How to Stick Out Like an Aging Seattle Grunge Band

  54. @ Kelly – I wonder what these people would think of reality shows like American Idol (sorry Canadians 😀 ) and SYTYCD? There is no doubt the shows make a profit off of many people’s talent, but only pay one of them! But like you said, at the same time these people are getting publicity they never could have gotten on their own.

    @ Ellen – *sigh*. Blatant rudeness irks me. Thus, I am sufficiently irked by most of the internet. 😛

    @ Jay – I’m in! Or would be if Jonathan had replied to James’ email differently…

    @ James – Thanks for posting your email to Jonathan and his reply. It helps to know that he has moved on to other exciting things, although it still is sad that he had to cancel his contest because of all the drama. 🙁

    Allison’s last blog post..Feisty Tuna Roll

  55. @ Kelly,

    Don’t worry, we get all of the same crap that you gals & guys do – through the wonders of satellite and cable TV, of course.

    Luckily there are some really great homegrown shows that complement the other really great shows from south of the border – although I tend to not watch too much TV these days (I’m sure it is less than 2 hours a week, if that) and then on my own time (PVR), so maybe I’m not the best authority on Canadian television.

    My family and friends keep me entertained, I’m having *far* too much fun blogging and hanging out with all of you people, and then there’s writing and reading – so I can’t get into the reality TV stuff.

    “Real reality” just seems to be a better deal for me… 😉

    Brett Legree’s last blog post..subterranean self worth.

  56. | <– I just drew the line. See it. ;o)

    Jay Francis Hunter’s last blog post..Disruptive Writing: Experimentation to Innovation

  57. I can understand some people not wanting to do contests. I pass most contests up myself. What I do not understand is why people can’t just make the choice to pass it up and drop it. Why make it a public flogging? Writers Digest runs writing contests. Is that spec work to these people? Where is the line drawn?

    Amy Derby’s last blog post..Appeasing Your Inner-Jackass: Dealing With Clients Who Piss You Off

  58. I agree! Before reading the comments, I thought the readers would really like this contest. But as I scrolled down and looked at some comments, I was disgusted.

    I am not sure how and why most people can’t see the difference between spec work and contest. Jonathan’s attempt was simply a call for the designers to get their creative side out.

    Contests are fun and a sure fire way to achieve a sense of satisfaction. I would encourage anybody to enter a contest if it fall within their reach or skill.

    “Sorry, honey. This is spec work. Your school should be ashamed. If they wanted your drawing, they should have given you money. You can’t enter. We don’t support spec work in this house.”

    This statement truly sums up FSW reader’s ignorance in differentiating spec work from contests. The controversy this contest generated was meaningless. I am really sad Jonathan had to call this contest off. It truly is a disgrace and shame that the mother of Freelancing Blogs have been harboring readers that truly aren’t aware of what they are talking about.

  59. I visited Jonathan’s site and read the post you linked to. Wow, how friggin stupid is this. You know, contests are one of the cornerstones of effective marketing. Was Jonathan trying to get attention with his contest, of course – NOTHING WRONG WITH THAT.

    I’ve taken a few marketing courses in my day and I can tell you, contests are listed as a viable strategy. It’s not like he wasn’t offering anything in return. The winners won stuff AND some PR themselves. These idiots painted him as someone simply asking for free work. Wrong!

    Geez, guess I better be careful because, you know, in my business plan I wrote – there is a little subheading called “Contests” in the Marketing section.

    ( Nice angry post James. Ok everyone, watch out . . . the entrepreneur is upset 😉 )

    John Hoff’s last blog post..The Art of Persuasion (Part 3 of 3): 7 Tips To Sharpening Your Persuasive Skills

  60. I have lots and lots of bad words to say about this whole thing, but this is a classy blog run by two classy gents, so I’ll stick to the facts.

    I’m a graphic designer. And I don’t work on spec.

    That said, I was happily engaged in competition, designing a cover for Jonathan when I found out he’d canceled the gig. Before I pulled the string to find out what was on the other of it, I knew I would find some whiners. I did.

    I totally dig Jonathan and the way he handled himself was top-notch. But the whiners at FSw killed it. Now I’ve got a pretty damn good, half-finished book cover that Jonathan will never see.

    I’d have happily finished it up. I’d have happily lost the competition and come in last place. That’s what a competition is. Someone wins while everyone else loses their ass. That’s the way it is and the way it should be.

    Lastly, I’m a writer for FSw. Well, I was a writer for FSw. I’m not going to write for such an audience anymore.

  61. AWAH … Sweet daddy to the rescue!

    That picture of that little girl is really cute. You use a relatable analogy to teach a good lesson.

    This piece could have been a little shorter and still made your point. I didn’t see this contest, but I heard about it. Looks like he redeemed himself with some good prizes, which is maybe how he should have started it.

    Mob mentality is what I say is going on all over blogland these days.

    Jaden @ Screenwriting for Hollywood’s last blog post..Take a Beating and Like It:Accepting Criticism Gracefully

  62. Even if it were on spec…how long would you spend doing the job for “just” a competition. I’ve entered and won competitions, you don’t spend a week writing a slogan or crafting a design for those do you?

    After all the hoo-ha about the logo for the London 2012 Olympics, one Brit designer came up with something perfect in 20 minutes, infinitely better than the logo they’re using (which is AWFUL, it looks like Lisa from The Simpsons giving head), and without all the marketing bullshit preamble that accompanied the official design.


    David Bradley’s last blog post..Lemon Battery

  63. I’m disgusted to hear what happened. I wasn’t aware of this until late this afternoon and I can’t believe that Jonathan was treated in such ways.

    Like you guys I didn’t see anything wrong with Jon’s contests and I saw it for what I was – a contest and nothing else.

    I’m off to read the comments at FS now. Probably get angry too.

    Sorry to Jon for having to take the whole nasty side of human behavior.

    Monika Mundell’s last blog post..Freelance Writing Blog Crawl – Round Two

  64. @ David – If I wanted something badly enough, I would work at it as long as I felt it took to get the result good enough to win. You’re asking the wrong person, here. I rode horses for many, many years and invested a LOT of money before I decided that it was time to show. It cost me money to enter that competition, too, and more to truck the horse to the grounds. It cost me money to dress up spiffy in regulation shirts and breeches.

    That competition wasn’t “just” a competition, for me. It meant a very great deal to me. And for all my years and sweat and falls and broken bones, I won a ribbon that cost the organizers about 40 cents. I was thrilled. (Yes, it was 1st place and yes, I came home with more than one ribbon.)

    In the London Olympics thing… we’d seen that. Harry had been upset. I think he blogged about it, too. It’s horrid. But that’s just judges who have bad taste.

    What does time investment have to do with anything?

    @ Monika – You will be. Sorry.

    @ Jaden – lol thanks for the length critique, but I wrote it as long as I felt was right for me. And thank you 😉

    @ John – I actually tend to get rather snotty when I’m mad versus being a force to fear. And even when I’m angry, I’m always very open to seeing the other side, which helps defuse the situation.

    @ Charlie – YOU WRITE FOR FWS? And you didn’t tell me??!!

    @ Ritu – Yes, I think the commentators who were rude like that were completely ignorant.

    @ Amy – That’s what I didn’t understand myself. There are writer contests all the time. Hell, there are contests on my butter container and in my cereal box. There’s no need to stone a person for DARING to run a contest.

  65. @ James – that’s how I see it too. Sometimes we do things we love, put our every spare moment into them, just out of love for the work, the sport, whatever.

    I used to play the paintball tournament circuit a bit in Southern Ontario (early 90’s) and I would call myself an “average” player, certainly not top 10 percent. But I loved the sport, I loved meeting the other players and I loved talking with them after each game to compare notes.

    A great way to learn how to improve, was to walk up to the folks who just stomped all over you and congratulate them. The chats we’d have were priceless.

    And the best prize I ever won was a sportsmanship award, in the toughest tournament I ever attended. It wasn’t even close in value to the thousands of dollars spent to get there (yes, thousands, if you counted the equipment, practices and so forth).

    This meant more to me than first prize, as it let me know I was on the right track.

    Brett Legree’s last blog post..subterranean self worth.

  66. @James You’re right. I was just kind of alluding to the fact that people can get great results working quickly, so the time investment is a red herring in terms of entering a competition. Showing horses is probably a little different in terms of logistics and bedding than designing a book cover, isn’t it?


    David Bradley’s last blog post..Lemon Battery

  67. @ David – Well, I dunno. It’s a contest, isn’t it? It’s an exchange of time for a chance to win in its purest form.

    Some girl next to me started riding at the beginning of the summer in a casual way. She bought a good horse and went to have fun. She won a ribbon, too. So yes, the time investment really has nothing to do with anything.

    I’m still thinking about that Olympics logo. I wish I’d forgotten about it…

    @ Brett – Bingo.

  68. For a short time the BBC’s site was actually displaying a logo a la “goatse”. Nasty. But, not quite as nasty as the logo they’re using!


    David Bradley’s last blog post..Lemon Battery

  69. Glad you wrote this post it is sad that people react in that manner – it’s also sad if they are professionals who can’t tell the difference between a contest and spec work. Sometimes people abuse the right to spesk their mind by making personal attacks and I regard that as flaming.

    sue’s last blog post..Writing Forums 2

  70. I first heard about this here, and went over to FSW to read some of responses, where I was, to say the least, surprised by the response.

    You see, in my mind, spec work implies that this is for your livilihood. You are out actively seeking income to pay the bills and make a living. Doing all the work before you even know that it will make money doesn’t make sense.

    A contest, on the other hand, is something you do in your free time. It’s something you invest time, effort, or whatever for the pleasure of it. You don’t try to make a living from it. Most creative contests require some kind of output to enter.

    Now, I am a writer, not a designer, and I’ve yet to start freelancing. I’m still in the studying phase, so my opinion may be null and void.

    tjwriter’s last blog post..Oddness

  71. @ Sue – I do too, and it’s unacceptable. There are ways to convey your views without hurting people, and there are ways to be both kind, polite and diplomatic while doing so.

    @ TJ – I don’t think it’s null and void. Writers have to face spec work from time to time as well. I share your opinions and I think that there is a world of difference between spec and contest. And if you don’t want to participate in a contest, then you don’t. End of story.

    I wonder if any of the flamers ever entered a contest when they were kids? Betcha they did and didn’t think twice.

  72. I never saw the contest, or heard of this. It was an interesting read, but I think you’ve touched on another subject accidentally. When it comes to the internet, Anonymity, or even just an alias to shield yourself with can turn the meek into the most brutal and nasty people around.

    It’s a phenomenon that has been spreading faster and faster, because people believe that civility has no place on the internet and that, seeing as the internet is their domain, they have every right to be as mean and as nasty to outsiders who aren’t part of their little posse.

    It’s all quite annoying when you discover it on a message board, or randomly stumble into it on a website, but to find it infecting professional mediums is just unsettling.

  73. @ ChrowX – Having once been on the receiving end of flaming when people were overly rude, nasty and judgmental thanks to the anonymity and lack of consequences of their actions, I can wholeheartedly say that it does a LOT of damage.

    There were other ways to handle the situation or to debate the issue without creating a public stoning like Jonathan received. People need to be self-accountable for their words and actions – because they can be extremely hurtful.

    Situations like this one are unsettling no matter when, how or where they occur. They can also incur long-term damages.


  1. […] “Daddy! Daddy! My school is having a contest for the most beautiful picture ever! I’m going to draw a unicorn… and a castle… and a princess… you can be the prince. Okay, Daddy?” …What do you do? Do you encourage your daughter, hand her crayons and tell her what a great artist she is? Or do you crumple the sheet, toss it in the garbage with a snort and say… “Sorry, honey. This is spec work. Your school should be ashamed. If they wanted your drawing, they should have given you money. You can’t enter. We don’t support spec work in this house.” Read more >>> […]

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  4. […] if you want to guarantee that your guest posting attempts achieve low results, ramp up that arTEESTe attitude, create a self-fulfilling prophecy and give guest posting half a serious shot instead of a real […]

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