The theme for Teen Read Week 2017 is Unleash Your Story which makes it the perfect time to host a short story contest for your teens. At my library, we run an annual short story contest and 2017 will be our 5th annual. If you are interested in hosting a contest at your library, here’s how we organize ours-ZB Inked Short Story Contest.
What Should the Rules Be?
Rules are IMPORTANT for your participants and your sanity. Make sure your rules are appropriate for your demographic and something you can handle. Here are our more important rules:
- Stories should be no longer than 4 pages. You may be inundated with hundreds of stories and to maintain your sanity, limit the number of pages. In previous years, it was a three page max but our teens complained and we increased it. We also have the rule…
- Teens may submit up to two stories. Once again, please be mindful of your sanity. We did this because our contest is not themed and our teens were conflicted between what story to submit. One teen also found this as a loophole to the 4 page limit. He was frustrated because he couldn’t condense his story so he submitted chapter one and chapter two as two separate stories. He won first place that year.
- The contest is only open to teens in our district. Some libraries open their contest to anyone but we live in a lower income community and some of our submissions are good stories but poorly executed. We also live in one of the wealthiest counties in the state with the best schools and many, not all but many, of our teens can’t quite compete. We want the teens in our district to have a shot at winning. I know that sounds like we have no faith in our teens/schools but in previous years, teens in neighboring districts took all three awards so we decided to limit the contest. We occasionally get the teacher who lives out of the district and asks if their kid to participate but we sadly decline their submission.
- We only allow emailed submissions. This is actually a new rule for this year. We create an anthology of the winners and it’s easier to print from email than copy from paper. If you are opening your contest to younger teens, 4th-5th grade, you may consider paper submissions as younger teens don’t have computers or email at school.
- Grammar Counts. We have a strict grammar rule and since then, the submissions have been thoroughly proofread. We also tell our teens they will be judged on creativity, originality, and use of characters.
- We have two grade categories: 6th-8th & 9th-12th. If just isn’t fair to make a 6th grader compete with a 12th grader.
- Not all prizes are guaranteed. In other words, there might not be a third place winner. On low submission years, we didn’t have good stories but we said there would be 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place prizes awarded. This year, we will not award bad stories.
- We don’t sensor the teens. We do ask that they use family friendly language but they may write about abuse, LGBTQ, violence, gore, mental health, etc. We have received submissions about abortion and gay characters and we’ve never received any complaints from parents. We do however, put a disclaimer on those stories in the anthology.
- Other important rules: Have a clear cut of date and time for submission deadlines. 9pm to midnight is best because teens tend to work late into the evening. Have one email for submissions and questions. Express an acceptable type font and size-we do Times New Roman/12/double-spaced. Express the date when you will announce the winners otherwise you’ll have teens asking every day. Give yourself two to three weeks to judge.
Prizes are up to your budget but whatever your prize, list it on the flyer.
- We host an author visit every Spring and one of our contest prizes is to have dinner with the author. Teens enjoy this because the dinner is usually limited to 10 teens and they can ask all the questions they desire.
Get The Word Out-CHEAPLY
We live in a community where we have to jump through hoops to promote our programs and services. If you work at a library where people actually read their newsletter, congrats and you can probably skip this part. If you aren’t so lucky, here’s what we do:
- Schools. We usually just send flyers to English/reading teachers and librarians but this year we will also send free books. We received a large donation from Scholastic and we will be giving out approx. 500 books.
- Asking Publishers for Book Donations. We simply visit all book publishers, find the school/library marketing contact, and ask for donations. We always describe our program and intent with the books. You’ll receive lots of no’s but you may get lucky like we did.
- Teachers. Ask a teacher, librarian, or principal from each school to judge the contest. They will be invested in the contest and encourage their students to enter.
- At our library, our teen staff chooses the top six finalists and we have teachers judge the finalists. Teachers are busy so don’t give them more work.
- Social Media.
- Try a Facebook or Instagram boost. Boosts are cheap ($7-$20) and they reach hundreds of patrons IN YOUR COMMUNITY. When you post on FB, you’ll see a blue button that says, “boost.” Click it and follow the directions.
- Weeks leading up to the deadline, I post creative writing tips. This is a different way of reminding your followers of the contest without being annoying.
We use a rubric that you may use below. We also deduct points for not including a full name, grade, and school. We put this on the rule sheet. We do this to make teens accountable for life. In life, you have to put your contact info; might as well start now.
We take the average from every judge to determine our winners. We also encourage judges to make comments.
When you’ve chosen a winner, take a picture and see if you can get it in your local newspaper so that your patrons will look out for your contest next year.