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I did the math on organizing a writing contest and wondered if I was sitting on a hidden goldmine; should I turn my career from writer to writing contest organizer?

First, I need a snazzy title, something like “The 30th Annual Emerging Writers Gold Awards Contest” (no need to worry about the prior 29 contests – perhaps, some fictitious names of winners in the previous three years would suffice).

Next, I need to have some handsome prizes: first prize $1500, second prize $1000, and third prize $500. The three winners may be offered a book contract from XYZ Publishing (XYZ will subsequently decline all three, but that comes later). Entrance fee is $15.00 per story, multiple entries are allowed. Entries are welcome from all over the world (in fact, the more remote the submitter is, the better). I think that should be a juicy enough offer.

Now, given that there are more writers than readers, and slush piles are overflowing with unread manuscripts, and self-publishing is flourishing but not quite respected, I would expect there to be at least 1000 submissions, which translates into $15,000 in revenue. And the costs would be $3000 in prize money (oh yes, you gotta pay for credibility’s sake), $500 for building a glitzy web site (and don’t forget to add a couple of pages on XYZ Publishing in case someone – meaning, everyone – checks) and $10 per month for web hosting. Oh, and a couple of hours of your time to (a) turf 975 manuscripts, and (b) pick 25 at random, scan them cursorily, pick the top three and the 12 also-rans, and garbage the rest. Let’s face it, everyone writes pretty good these days as we have a longer living, better-educated population, and because everyone has a story to tell. The net profit on this contest would be approximately $11,000 – plenty of upside even if the number of entries fall below 1000.

And the beauty of this scheme is that for a $5 increase in the entrance fee, I could afford to dole out $1000 more in prize money and still pocket an extra $4000. There is no audit and “the judges’ verdict is final.” The only person raising an eyebrow would be the poor mailman delivering all those submissions. And if I run one contest a month, I could earn a six figure income!

Now here’s the reality: I have no intention of becoming a writing contest organizer – let me make that very clear! And I do not wish to upset those organizers who run ethical contests with independent juries, fueled only with altruism towards discovering new talent and furthering literature. And I don’t have a problem with these organizers being fairly compensated for their efforts either. But realizing the potential for abuse, I place these financials before emerging writers who may be under the illusion that entering every contest under the sun is the way to fame and fortune.

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