Zine Awards, Entry Fees, & Broken Pencil – Part One: The Meaning of Competition

Last month, Broken Pencil – a magazine (or mega-zine as they write on site) on zine culture and independent arts – announced its first ever Broken Pencil Zine Awards. Submissions are open until July 15th. Nominees will be announced by September 1st, and the winners will be awarded at Canzine 2017 in Toronto on Friday, October 20th.

With a prize pool of $1000 ($200 per category), plus $400 if your zine is chosen Zine of the Year, it has definitely gained some attention. However, with a $20 entry fee for non-members (for the first zine, $8 for the second, and $8 for the third), it’s also caused some not-so-great comments as well.

I’ve been asked to share my thoughts on the event. What I thought would fairly be cut and dry turned into a look at small business, zine culture, and competitions.

I first heard about the Broken Pencil Zine Awards when someone posted about not supporting the idea. They felt that (I’m paraphrasing) putting zines and zine makers in competition like that went against the spirit of zine making.

While I respect and understand that line of thinking on the matter, I don’t fully agree with it. (Speaking with the bias that I celebrated 100 zine reviews by putting up a zine awards event of my own.) I do think though, that line of sentiment brings up the first thing that niggled me when I read more about this event:

It’s a competition.

You may be thinking ‘of course it is’ at this point, but my point is that the word ‘competition’ isn’t anywhere to be seen, and I think it needs to be.

‘Competition’ is only one word, but in these sorts of situations when you have some people getting upset, then one word can make a huge difference..

The definition of competition is, “The activity or condition of striving to gain or win something by defeating or establishing superiority over others.”

By requiring an entry fee, it means the zine maker is making an investment (moreso than other types of entry conditions) and creates the ‘in it to win it’ environment. With phrases like ‘the most creative and cutting-edge zine creators’ and ‘best of the best’ (the latter found in an announcement post) you are creating a competition environment.

Yes, it’s a fine line, but it’s an important one. The words ‘competition’ and ‘award’ create certain expectations. Call it an ‘award competition’ if you like, but to me, awards are about appreciation through equal and open opportunity nomination. Whereas competitions are about a certain slice of a group entering into something with the intention of being better than someone else.

A fee for a competition feels different than a fee for an award (is there such a thing?). An award is like an acknowledgement for hard work, and people don’t usually expect to pay to be acknowledged.

I am heart and soul an editor, so while the wording may be important to me, it might not be important to others. The issue getting many people up in arms is the $20 entry fee for non-members.

More on the hard figures in my next post.

TL;DR I think it’s a competition, and the title should reflect as much to be clearer about expectations. The money stuff is in the next post.

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6 thoughts on “Zine Awards, Entry Fees, & Broken Pencil – Part One: The Meaning of Competition

  1. I completely agree with the “if it’s a competition, SAY it’s a competition”. Not sure about having a “zine competition” in the first place thought, I mean, I wouldn’t participate even if it was free because to me, that goes against why I write zines in the first place: I have stuff I want to share, I hope others enjoy reading it, and that’s it. I don’t even think about it in terms of being “better” or “worse” than other zines.

    Especially with perzines, I feel it kinda goes against what they stand for. How can you compare two personal stories? Do you choose the one that is most impressive, or the one that is better written, or has a prettier layout, or I don’t know? They are more often than not very intimate and personal narratives, and I’m not sure how or even why you’d want to make them compete against each other. Not saying that people shouldn’t if they’re into it, but I definitely wouldn’t ever enter any of my perzines for a competition. I might feel different about fiction/literary/bookartsy zines though.

    Liked by 1 person

    • You’ve brought up a really good point that I should have touched on in regards to how do you even compare/rate personal stories? The perzine category is going to be an incredibly tricky one for the judges… I feel like awards are fun but competitions lead to more negative feelings. Imagine how you’d feel if your personal zine wasn’t ‘good enough’ to make it into the top five.

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      • A similar-ish thing that I thought of while breathing in ozone at the copy shop yesterday, is that it could even inspire a kind of psychological arms race, as in: people feeling that, bluntly put, “the worst story wins”, then start to one up each other in the misery department just to win.

        I thought of this because a couple of years ago, when some peeps and I organised a “blog revival” (don’t ask) one person shared a personal, intimate story and in the next few days, at least 10 others posted “worse” stories. And while this might not have been deliberately intended as such, it did create an atmosphere of “You think your experience is bad? Well, I suffered [insert something horrible here]” instead of a “sharing is caring”-type situation in which they said something along the lines of “Peter writing about this, made me wanna share” or something. I remember that we (the organisers) were super uncomfortable with the dynamic and not sure what to do about it. And in this particular case it there wasn’t an entry fee or a cash prize to be won, just comments and likes.

        This might of course have been due to that particular group of people, and might never happen again in the history of ever (which I hope), but just the fact that this could potentially happen would dissuade me.

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