'Call for entries,' and design book submission request, observations and recommendations: Part Two

Nearly 20 years ago I began responding to design competition calls for entries and book publisher requests for submissions with the entry of client work. Part One of this article provided some general considerations for making the most of such situations. This entry offers some more specific recommendations:

Provide what is requested: Simple right? You would think so, but many designers seem to have a problem following instructions. If a competition or book call for entries requests actual printed samples don't provide digital images. Most likely there's a desire to photograph all selected projects in-house for quality control. If a writer or editor request two or three submissions, don't submit 10 and ask that the reviewer select what they like. With several hundred people submitting work, numerous additional, unneeded entries means hundreds of images that the recipient most likely doesn't have time to review. Besides, the submitting designer knows their own work best and should be able to select what they hope to have showcased.

Submit the exact image files needed: There’s a reason competitions and book publishers ask that image submissions meet their own very specific file type and size requirements. The requested files are what will best serve the needs of the specific judging process or high-resolution printing. Many submissions to my own books have been every file type other than what was requested - the wrong size, low resolution or just really poor quality. Specifications may differ for each competition or book project. It's in a designer's best interest to submit exactly what is requested to present one's work at its best. Improper image files, or misnamed digital files, may result in disqualification from review.

The old "garbage in; garbage out" adage applies here. Submission of a poor quality digital image is only going to make a designer's work look bad. High quality digital images are a book publisher's friend.

Take advantage of an opportunity to describe your work: If given the opportunity to submit a detailed description of your work, take advantage of the situation. In early 2010 I was asked to judge a large number of submissions for the book Logolicious. The online submission form provided designers the chance to include a short description of the logo being submitted. I was surprised at the large number of designers who entered no description at all. In judging the entries, I found myself questioning what some images were, and what other designs supposedly represented. Simple one or two sentence descriptions went a long ways in making my decisions as a judge much easier and definitive.

Complete all requested documentation and authorization forms: It may sound like a "no-brainer," but it is very important to complete all entry form information and provide any required signature verifying rights and authorizing publication. An individual reviewing submissions may find it easier to reject an incomplete entry than tracking down the designer to collect missing details.

Give credit where credit is due: It is incredibly important to always credit those who participated in any project you choose to submit as a competition entry or as possible book content. Be generous in listing all that have contributed to the final project – especially if the design will end up being published, with credits, in a book or magazine. There is nothing worse than a supposed “team” member providing a design for publication, or a competition, and not crediting (or improperly crediting) major players on a project. Many years ago a minor contributor on a project of my own submitted the end result for inclusion in an international design book – listing me as minor participant on the effort. To say I was unhappy is an understatement.

Verify that you have have permission to submit specific design work: Many designers automatically assume that they have all permissions required to submit a project for award or publication consideration. Work for employers, work-for-hire situations, projects executed as a contractor for a corporation and other scenarios may not offer carte blanche authority to do so. Many competitions and book publishers require that contributors verify that they have maintained the right to make the submission in question. Early in my career I would often find myself chasing down a former client to get permission to enter a project in a competition or for inclusion in a book. For the past decade the following clause in my own project agreement has made such submissions much easier:

The designer retains personal rights to use the completed project and any preliminary designs for the purpose of design competitions, future publications on design, educational purposes and the marketing of the designer’s business. Where applicable the client will be given any necessary credit for usage of the project elements.

Feel free to use and abuse the clause for your own purposes.

Set yourself apart from the crowd: What makes your design efforts unique? Work that stands out from the crowd in concept, execution and presentation is what will often get the attention of those judging a competition or selecting graphic content for a book. Several years ago I was judging the Summit Creative Awards and the trend of lime green and orange ink colors was a bit overwhelming. I found myself being drawn to the submitted designs that were unusual, didn’t fall into the trap of current trends or offered unique solutions to what may have been a very common design brief.

Ask any questions you may have about the competition or book project: Most design competition calls for entries, or book submission requests, do provide contact email addresses or phone numbers for any questions that contributors may have about the detailed specifications for such activities. Make use of these resources. Making your own assumptions in regards to any questions you may have could result in an entry that will not be accepted due to failure to follow the rules. In addition, contact with the competition sponsor or book publisher may initiate a relationship of value when submitters are being sought in the future for other projects.

Inquire about possible deadline extensions: Many design competitions and book submission deadlines allow for some flexibility. Rather than rushing to finalize an entry, due to a looming deadline, contact the entity in question and inquire about a possible extension. Often additional time will be provided, allowing for completion of an organized and complete submission.

Neatness counts: Neatness in all aspects of an entry or submission does make a difference. Enough said.

Package your submissions carefully: If shipping off actual printed samples of design work, make sure that your pieces are packaged to survive the wear and tear of the U.S. Mail or other delivery option. The first impression of a damaged project is going to impact the review or judging process.

Be patient in awaiting the results of a competition or book publication: Competition judging, and the production of a book, takes time. Be patient in awaiting the results of your design submissions. Most calls for entries or submissions result in hundreds, if not thousands of contributions. In its first year the HOW Logo Design Awards received over 800 entries. The book Logolicious required the review of nearly 5000 logo designs. In selecting designs for inclusion the book Letterhead and Logo Design 11, the firm Design Army had to sort through over 3000 submissions. Most design books are the result of a year or two of interviewing, writing, image selection, editing, design and printing.

Many competition coordinators and publishers are excellent about informing those whose work has been selected. By doing so, they are providing designers the opportunity to promote the news in a very timely manner - giving greater exposure to the competition or possibly increasing book sales. Unfortunately, in some cases I have received official notification of my work being included months after a book has hit the retailers' shelf.

Promote the hell out of your competition or book submission successes: It's in a designer's own best interest to "toot! one's own horn" when receiving a industry award or having work published in a book. Post the news on your blog, create a note on your Facebook page, or "tweet" about the information. Send out press releases to online and print design media, local newspapers, business publications, alumni organizations and trade magazines. An email press missive may be sent out to art/creative directors, vendors, clients, past clients, potential clients, design peers, friends and family. Make sure the client whose work has been recognized is aware of the fact. Ask the client if their specific industry has a trade publication or organization that should be made aware of the news.

Making others aware of your honor, or inclusion in a book, may result in requests for new work, possible inclusion in other books or articles, opportunities to make business or design organization presentations, or more.

Show your appreciation: In some cases, designers may receive complimentary copies of a book or magazine in which their work appears. If so, immediately send the author, editor or publisher a handwritten thank you note. In addition, whenever a writer or interviewer includes me in an article, book or podcast, I always make sure to express my appreciation with a note, email or call. Simple "thank yous" are an incredibly valuable tool in establishing career-long relationships.

Check out Part One of this article for more information about submitting design work for competition or book publishing review.

Some additional resources on this topic:

Calls for entries: Upcoming graphic design competition and book submission deadlines

When a "contest" is not a contest

"Calls for entries" confusion?

A Winning Strategy

© 2010 Jeff Fisher LogoMotives.

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