my year as a master is almost up (totally unbelievable how quickly the past year has flown!!) and now talk on message boards has turned to "who's entering?" and "what do you think editors are looking for?" which reminded me that i wrote an article for designerzine last year about this exact topic.
so in the spirit of benevolence, i'm sharing the article here to help out anyone who might want to be a fly on the wall of a scrap office as the editors sift through entries to pick their faves. happy reading.
"And the Winner Is …": Getting a Leg Up on Major Contests
By Michele Skinner
Assistant Editor at Designerzine
Every year, when the major scrapbook publications announce their big design team-selection contest, excitement builds just as fast as rumors and questions among scrap community members. People start to hope and dream and plan, they start to ask for advice from those who have been there/done that, and they start to speculate about just who will get the call.But what they all wonder is, “What makes an entry stand out?” followed quickly by, “Do I even stand a chance?” When I was approached about writing an article on the subject of major contests and how they are run, I had an added incentive: I had recently been named a Memory Makers Master for 2007 and I was just as dumbfounded about how I got selected as other scrappers are when they ask if their entry will be taken seriously. If it was answers Designerzine wanted, then you can bet they were the same answers I wanted as well! So I turned to my contact at Memory Makers, Craft Editor Erin Edelmann, and peppered her with the burning questions every scrapper wants to know about magazine contests. And Erin was more than happy to share.
She began with the basics. The announcement for the Masters contest was made in the June 2006 issue of Memory Makers, which means the criteria was in place and ready to publish back in February. Once the June issue hit the stands, readers had until July 31st to send in an entry … roughly two months’ notice from time the contest was announced until the deadline drop date. Once the deadline was past, judging the more than 600 entries took place up until the final selections were made, and calls went out to winners during the first week of September.This is stuff all scrappers know, especially those well-versed and well-experienced in entering contests. So I wanted some meatier answers, such as how the criteria for the contest are decided and how the selection process works.
Erin said that much of the criteria are the same year after year - craftsmanship, variety, versatility, photography and journaling are always going to be paramount when it comes to who moves on in the selection process. But she admits that trends – both in the industry and in the magazine – do factor in.
“Trends do change from year to year – more like month to month – and we have to make sure that the look (of our magazine) keeps up with that,” she said. “I think the direction of the magazine is another big factor. Since new ownership, we are making a conscious effort to appeal to every level in our industry, which means we look for talented people who can show a variety of techniques and looks.”New ownership? I’m glad she mentioned that. This is the first Masters contest run by Memory Makers since changing hands to F&W Publications last year. I wondered how that affected the contest and whether the new editorial team had different expectations for their selected designers than in previous years, and whether those expectations helped determine who got a call.“I'm not sure in what ways we've changed the process,” Erin admitted, “I know that in the judging we created new criteria lists by which everyone on our team had to judge each individual page. We also created new contracts. I definitely have expectations for our Masters,” she added. “I'm sure my expectations are a little different from the previous editorial team, but I'm sure they're similar in a lot of ways. I expect the Masters to be spokes-models for the magazine and take pride in what they create. I hope that they would inspire our readers to take chances and try new things. I also expect them to help us build a community within our industry where everyone is welcome and feels at home.”
Like any other team selected by any other magazine on any given year, the selected designers become ambassadors for the publication, both creatively and publicly. If the duties of Masters and other magazines’ teams are so similar, then the criteria on which they are selected are probably similar, too, right? The process starts with narrowing down the entries until the top 25 are on the table. Once the 25 strongest entries are determined, everyone on the magazine team and the Memory Makers books team gets a judging sheet. Over the next week, they judge each individual entry on multiple topics. They check, for example, to see which designers have variety in their style and in their photographs; it's important that a designer doesn’t create layouts using the same child over and over, or that they consistently use the same page or size formats. Once the magazine teams have filled out their judging sheets, the scores are tallied by a point system to see which ten designers come out on top.The process sounds logical, and designers can’t argue the selection criteria. As readers of publications, the layouts that catch our eye are composed of the same strengths – design, photography, innovation, creative topic ideas. But it stands to reason, then, that designers would create layouts with those principles in mind. Then how does a designer make a truly stand-out entry? One that speaks to the selection team and screams, “I’m the one you want!”
Erin revealed that the entry forms and how they are attached aren’t a big concern, as they can be easily corrected if need be. The most important thing is the entry itself, and whether the designer has variety.
“(Variety) shows that you can be utilized in many areas and in different columns,” she said. “To be unique and creative is also important. People are always looking for inspiration for color, photography, embellishments and even topics of what to scrapbook. Journaling plays a big part, too. We are all telling our stories, so make sure yours is loud enough for everyone to hear.”
Now we know what the entries need and how they are judged, but the most pessimistic designer on the boards will still say that the contests are rigged anyway, so it matters not a whit what your submission looks like. The magazines already know who they want on their team.
Erin was completely sympathetic to the idea, but emphatically denies that it is a factor. “I can see where these ideas come from,” she said. “It's like entering a raffle and then picking your own name … people will always suspect cheating. I can reassure you that does not happen here.
"To be honest with you," Erin continued, “I have never been one with names; I can barely remember my own! Even if some of the other judges did know [who entrants are], that wouldn't help here. A non-judging employee is asked to remove any names from the entries. They are instead assigned a number. When we have the winners, we use the number to find out the designer’s identity.”
That designer is then called, his or her year begins, full of opportunities and excitement. Then what? Nearly every designer who enters a contest with the hopes of winning must have some end-game in mind, some reason for entry. And many designers who have been on teams in the past will tell you that the experience can be a great springboard into other work, if that’s what you desire. Many designers feel being selected in a major contest for a publication is the gateway to fame and solid work within the industry. So I just had to ask Erin if she sees past and current contest winners as more "usable" on a monthly basis, and I wanted to know what speaks the loudest to her about someone's ability to make it in the craft field beyond their experience as a contest winner.
"That's a tough call because it goes both ways. I always judge pages or projects by talent, not by who made it," she said. "On the other hand, I am prone to ask a past or current Master for artwork because I know that I can trust that they will always impress me. I say that because (editors) become familiar with their work. I am always looking for new talent though,” she continued. “Believe it or not, we do actually go through reader submissions and our online gallery for talent. There are so many good publications out there and I do think it's important to submit to as many as you can. It never hurts to get your name out there so people start recognizing it.”
Erin concluded with the philosophy that we all have different views on what "making it" is in this industry. For some designers it means being published or writing a book, while others want to teach classes on a national circuit, and then there’s another group whose goal is to create and design their own line of papers and embellishments.“What speaks the loudest to me about their ability to make it is simply their hope,” she said. “Those who never lose their hope through all the trials, rejections and hard work truly inspire me.”