The following questions—or statements or suggestions—are from a survey we invited members to participate in and from emails to the contest committee. They are followed by responses. These will not satisfy everyone, especially as some of the suggestions are in direct conflict with other suggestions. But this information will let you know more about the process.
We've grouped related questions/suggestions together for a collective response.
Regarding tiers for awards:
Statement: Smaller staffs and smaller budgets cannot compete with the “big boys.” Why not present awards in two tiers -- smaller and larger publications?
Statement: We're not going to enter the contest anymore, because it is not really fair for smaller publications. We never win.
Response: We have been unable to determine a practical way to split awards into tiers for Higher Goals. (In the Awards of Excellence contest there are not enough entries to split into tiers.) Should it be based on circulation, size of the staff, or the amount of the budget? The easiest would be to use circulation, and this is usually the criteria in other media contests. However, in EPA, there are publications with low circulations which boast large staffs and budgets, while some large circulation publications have surprisingly small staffs.
It appears that the greatest advantage large budget publications have is in the number of entries they can afford to submit. Those publications that win a lot of awards have entered a lot of awards. We have observed that smaller budget publications often compete quite well with the “big boys,” but they win fewer awards simply because they make fewer submissions.
The thing to remember is that a great value of the contest is the feedback from the judges. Of course it is exciting to win, but everyone receives a constructive critique they can use to make their publication better. That alone is worth the entry fee.
NOTE: In 2020, EPA introduced a pilot program for a Best in Class contest. The contest placed magazines in tiers based on circulation.
Regarding the numbers of awards given:
Suggestion: Just give first and second place [in each category].
Question: In poetry and humor there were not [as] many winners [as in other categories], yet we entered both categories and did not win.
Question: Why are there so few winners in some categories? If there is an entry and it passes, let it win.
Response: In the Higher Goals categories we ask judges to rank the top winners, first to fifth place in most categories. If there are ten or fewer entries they are free to award fewer winners. If a judge believes there are fewer than five entries in a category deserving of awards, he or she may name fewer winners. We try to work with the judges so that each award is meaningful—if we have five entries in a category and give out five awards, we want the judge to have confirmed that each is deserved.
For the Awards of Excellence we ask them to award one Award of Excellence in each category and suggest they give up to three Awards of Merit. Again we suggest they consider the number of entries per category and award fewer Awards of Merit if there is less competition, but we allow them to give out Awards of Merit as they see fit. If there are only three entries and all three are high quality and deserving of an award, then all three can be awarded.
We ask judges to avoid ties. Even if their numerical ratings are equal, we ask them to consider other qualities that will allow them to place the winners into an order. Some judges are reluctant—one wanted to award a five-way tie in a category one year—but we believe that ties do not serve the purpose of the awards process, so we push back and ask for a ranking.
Statement: Some of the judges did not seem to be the most qualified people to judge certain categories.
Statement: The editorial judges should be editors, not writers, of larger, perhaps even secular magazines. Small press editors really have a different focus.
Statement: Judges who are designers should be active in the industry, perhaps the secular industry, so they understand what is necessary. Of course, all the judges should be Christians.
Question: I have a suggestion for a future judge. Do they need to be evangelicals to judge?
Statement: [Academics] with more direct contact with students—and thus contemporary work—make better judges than those removed from current trends by administrative duties.
Suggestion: Have at least two judges in Higher Goals and three for Awards of Excellence. Multiple judges would add more credibility and benefit to the publication.
Response: Our first goal is to find professionally qualified judges for each category. We do our best to find judges who are not currently involved directly with any EPA member publication. This avoids the reality of, or even appearance of, a conflict of interest.
Finding qualified judges is a challenge. As most of us in our industry have seen, the amount of work expected from each person has grown over the last few years. Potential judges are likewise very busy. Also, the honorarium we offer each is limited.
For the writing contests we seek Christians who are evangelicals or those who have special qualification so they will understand our audiences and our mission. For the design and visual categories we are open to a wider variety of judges, but still look for those who will understand our audiences.
It is not practical to recruit multiple judges in each category for three reasons. First, as mentioned above, it is difficult to recruit enough judges to fill the needs we have for one in each category. Second, it would be more time consuming to have them compare notes or to go back and review the top-rated entries on a second pass. Third, as we do offer a small honorarium for each judge, more judges would mean we would need to double or triple the fees for contest entries.
Questions: [I’d like] more clarity on how print/online mags work. If I want to enter an article from our online version that didn’t appear in print, are you also looking at layout?
Answer: We ask the judges to rank each entry based on the criteria spelled out on the entry form. As we don’t include layout or design in the criteria for writing categories, those factors should not be part of that consideration. Of course, we don’t know what an individual judge might consider in making her or his decision, but we ask that each use the specified criteria for rating entries.
If you have other questions, email the Executive Director. You will get an answer by email, and your question might end up on this page to help other members, as well.