HomeStation Announces A New Writing Contest

by NorseGamer, HSM Editor-in-Chief 

I’ll let you in on a stretch goal I’ve had in the back of my mind ever since HomeStation started: to completely turn over the front page’s content on a daily basis.

Insane, right? That’s ten new articles per day — roughly five times our current output. And let’s remember that we’re not talking about blatant copypasta of PR announcements; that’s cheap and lazy blogging, whereas we’re focused on long-form literary journalism. Ten new articles per day would be three-hundred articles per month, which at an average word count of about 1200 words per article works out to somewhere between four to five novels’ worth of coverage about Home. Every month.

I know it sounds nuts. But if we rewind the clock a couple of years, no one thought HomeStation itself could workA correctly structured publication — not a vanity project to serve one person’s ego, but an actual publication, properly structured and maintained, existing as a platform for Home’s most noted artisans to share their works — is a horrendous undertaking, particularly when it’s pro bono. And it only works if enough people share that belief, that vision, and that work ethic to pull it off.

This is one of the reasons why you’ll hear me sing the praises of the HSM team all day long: because they’re the real heroes. They’re the ones who make this work, who bring this phenomenal journal to life. And it’s a privilege for the editors and I to serve them.

The challenge that we encounter, ironically, is that because of HomeStation’s commitment to achievement, potential contributors sometimes shy away from us. Either they feel their work isn’t of sufficient caliber to merit HSM’s attention,  or — in rarer cases — they’re not comfortable with the idea of going through an editorial process.

So, how best to overcome this?

Simple: throw money at it.

The first rule of economics is that people respond to economic incentive. And thus we’ve seen in the past that the easiest way to overcome trepidation and fear of rejection is to offer up prizes to compete for. Because once a new contributor is over that hump — once their byline appears on HomeStation’s front page, and people start responding — that’s when any fear of the process evaporates.

If you’ve seen our previous writing contests, then this one will seem very familiar. The contest will run from Wednesday, September 19th through Wednesday, October 3rd. All articles run during that time period, save for those by HSM editors (Norse, Mike, Cubes, Terra, Seal, Estim, BONZO), are automatically considered contest entries. Winners will be announced on October 8th.

Now, in order to give everyone a fighting chance, team writers and guest contributors will be competing for separate prizes. The top three articles from HSM’s team writers, and the top three articles from any guest contributors (whether they’ve been published in HSM previously or not) will each receive a code for a $20 PSN card. Also up for grabs is an Editor’s Choice award, which will be given to the one article that the HSM editing team feels is deserving of special recognition.

And that Editor’s Choice award is a $50 PSN card.

(All PSN cards are for SCEA Home only.)

So that’s seven prizes, totaling $170 in prize money up for grabs. Not bad for a two-week contest!

Now then, what are the rules to this contest?

It’s basically the same as our previous writing contests. All articles must be at least 900 words in length, except for machinima submissions (which must have at least 200 words). Articles should in some way deal with PlayStation Home, the PlayStation Network, or Sony gaming in general, and subject material should be no stronger than PG-13. Guest submissions should be e-mailed to submissions@hsmagazine.net, where they will be screened and either rejected or accepted for editing.

You might be wondering how we pick the “top” three guest submissions and top three team articles. Same as always: unique visitors. We go through the analytics and determine which articles generated the most traffic. So when your work appears in HSM, you want to make sure to tell all your friends to check it out — because that bumps up your odds of winning!

(The only exception to this is the Editor’s Choice award, which is a subjective choice voted upon in private by the editorial team.)

A couple of tidbits: submitting images with your article makes the lives of the editors much easier, and considering how busy they are, that increases your odds of being published. We also strongly recommend running your work through a spellchecker before sending it. And remember the golden rule of HSM: we care less about the subject of the article and more about how the subject made the author feel. That’s where the story is.

In case you want to see a full list of the rules, we’ll have it up in the HSM forum shortly. It’s virtually the same ruleset as our past writing contests of this nature.

Let’s talk for a moment about why you’d want to be published in HomeStation Magazine:

HomeStation is regarded as Home’s literary journal nonpareil. Its audience is expected to top more than 70,000 unique visitors this year. HSM is read by virtually every major Home developer, and has been openly credited with overtly helping to improve at least one major PlayStation Home game. HomeStation is recognized as a platform for Home’s finest artists and writers to creatively express themselves, and our adherence to (comparatively) rigorous editorial standards ensures that the publication’s voice is heard as a reasoned, thoughtful outlet for constructive criticism.

One need only look at some of our past magazine issues, featuring people such as Ralph Baer and Richard Garriott, to see that HomeStation is not just another Home blog. Certainly our most recent issue, which featured interviews with Home developers about content not even yet released into Home, is testament to our level of success. Like The New Yorker, HSM strove to build a reputation as a prestigious place to be published, at least within the Home community. And we have succeeded.

So now we offer you the chance to shine. After all, that’s what HomeStation’s all about: it’s a publication by the community and for the community. And as any of our past competition winners can tell you, there’s nothing like the pleasant surprise of receiving an e-mail that notifies you you’ve won a PSN card due to your HSM article.

From the entire HSM editorial team, we look forward to seeing your work on our front page!

September 19th, 2012 by | 15 comments
NorseGamer is the product manager for LOOT Entertainment at Sony Pictures, as well as the founder and publisher of HomeStation Magazine. Born and raised in Silicon Valley, he holds a B.A. in English/Creative Writing from San Francisco State University and presently lives in Los Angeles. All opinions expressed in HSM are solely his and do not necessarily reflect the views of Sony DADC.

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15 Responses to “HomeStation Announces A New Writing Contest”

  1. The Story

    Once upon a time he started something. For reasons which shall remain untold he quit.

    The End
    & your beginning

  2. Dr_Do-Little says:

    10 new articles a day!
    I dunno, I can barely keep up with 2! Well, I might give it a shot. Even knowing that english not being my main language I start with two strikes. But hey, we’re in it for fun right? ;)

  3. KrazyFace says:

    The promise of money sure is a big fat, dangly carrot to most people!

  4. FEMAELSTROM says:

    Everyone should give this a try…I mean EVERYBODY that is reading this article. Take it from me, I started with an entry into the magazine and now I’m a full time staff writer. Submitting will not get you a post on the magazine, but the staff is so helpful and the experience is worth it. I loved the experience. A word to all: DO IT DO IT DO IT DO IT, sorry editors.

  5. Terra_Cide says:

    It should also be noted that entrants into our previous writing contests -- both as existing team members and as first time contributors -- have gone onto become editors here. :)

  6. McJorneil says:

    Aaargh! The timing of this contest amuses me. I literally just now submitted NorseGamer on the PS Forums an article I’ve been working on for the past couple weeks. I hope that’s alright? I don’t want it to be counted as a submission for this contest, as doing it for money was never my intention.

    • NorseGamer says:

      I just read through your spec submission, and it looks good; we’ve added it to the draft queue. If you could register with the site (it’s free), we can put the article under your account and byline.

      We’ll also strike it from contest consideration, per your request. It’s still a good read, though. Thanks for submitting it!

      (By the way, if you need any guidance with navigating the site tools that contributor accounts have, there’s a “Help” tab up at the top of the website which provides very thorough assistance. We can also answer questions as needed to provide further help.)

  7. riff says:

    wow so essentially whoever gets the most hits on their article in this period of time can then win moo-la?

    • NorseGamer says:

      That’s how this works! The top three team writers and the top three guest contributors will each win a $20 PSN card. And since we measure by unique visitors to determine the “top” articles for contest purposes, there’s an incentive to tell as many friends as possible when one of your stories gets published. :D

      • KrazyFace says:

        But, since every web page reads from top to bottom, won’t that mean whoever submits firsts will ‘have the most views’?

        • NorseGamer says:

          Great question, and it allows me to reveal a little bit of insight into how we structure the lineup the way we do.

          There’s the old aphorism that nothing’s older than yesterday’s news, and one thing I’ve observed — both at this publication and a prior one I served on — is that daily web articles produce an “Eiffel Tower effect” with their traffic numbers. Once an article is published, it gets nearly all of its traffic within the first 24 hours of its release. Some residual traffic carries over to the next day, but within 100 hours, that article’s done.

          There *are* exceptions to this, but it’s extremely rare. Off the top of my head the last article that pulled residual traffic numbers for a greater period of time was IrishSiren’s article on why she left Home. Granted, we also timed that article’s release for when we saw an increased level of public discourse on this topic, in order to maximize its visibility (which is something we do with our article lineup anyway — some articles, including my own, wait for weeks or even *months* before being released, just so we can send them out when the timing is right).

          Two items I do want to mention: we’ve studied and proven that there’s absolutely no consistent correlation between reader comments and visitor traffic. Some of our most-read articles receive little to no commentary. And there’s absolutely no correlation between which article is in which slot during the daily release and the amount of traffic it receives.

          The one direct correlation we’ve been able to prove is that there *is* a connection between the number of articles we release per day and how much overall traffic we see. When we upped the ante from one article per day to two articles per day, we saw a sustained gain in our daily visitor traffic — to the tune of a few extra thousand unique visitors per month.

          This is one of the reasons why, even though it’s a stretch goal that requires growing HomeStation by several orders of magnitude, I’m so focused on one day being able to consistently turn the entire front page of the website with new content on a daily basis — because at that point we’d be pulling some truly insane numbers. And we know this because we actually *have* turned the entire front page a few times, with our April Fools Day specials, last year’s Halloween special, and our recent barrage with Issue #12 in which we released twenty articles in 36 hours. The traffic spike was farking *huge* — and according to the analytics, a lot of those new readers stuck around.

          None of this, of course, is possible without the phenomenal talents of the HomeStation team; my responsibility is to provide as visible a platform for their work as I can, and absolutely everything at HSM — including these writing contests — is relentlessly geared towards that goal. One of the things that each team writer receives, at the end of the year, is a report of how many visitors read their articles, because it’s very important that each writer knows that by contributing to HSM, their work is being read by thousands — in some cases, tens of thousands — of people, including several major Home developers.

          (I believe Burbie holds the 2011 record for most number of readers per team writer. Will be curious to see how 2012 shapes up…)

          I know this is a long-winded answer (ha! what’s new), but it’s important to convey just how *much* process and meticulous study goes into this stuff. Something as seemingly innocuous as what time of day we choose to publish is carefully scrutinized and examined for maximum impact. And I do want to point out that Terra, ever since she took over as HSM’s Managing Editor, has actually *improved* on our metrics by modifying certain key elements of our business plan. In resort development, I’ve hired and fired managers with substantial salaries who don’t get scrutinized as much as she does — because HSM is a labor of love with a damn talented team, and we who serve them as editors *must* do right by them — and she’s more than proven herself capable of steering the ship (which is quite important to me, because HomeStation was never designed to be The Norse Show, and a properly structured publication with correctly-implemented production processes should run like clockwork).

          It’s all this stuff that happens behind the scenes, which the reader and even the team doesn’t see, that makes a difference. I’m a huge devotee of Bill Walsh’s “West Coast Offense” concept, which places emphasis on finesse and coordinated teamwork over raw individual power, because everyone can take confidence and strength from the measurable results of the *process,* making superstars out of those involved. It does require a high level of trust from the team, because the editors and I are entrusted with making their work shine (and there are times when I can be a royal pain in the ass when pushing for quality improvements), but in every case I don’t ask the team to do anything I wouldn’t do myself, and they are always rewarded with results that can be measured and duplicated.

          So now then: with all of that preamble in place for context, let’s talk contest views per article. One thing we’ve been able to see — repeatedly — is that it doesn’t make any difference whether an article runs early in the contest or late in the contest; the numbers are remarkably homogenized. In more than one prior instance, some prize winners have literally been determined by a single unique visitor, between articles that are published days (or even weeks) apart. It’s that close.

          This is one of the reasons we keep emphasizing that it’s best, when someone’s article appears in HSM, to immediately spread the word to your friends. Sure, the magazine benefits from picking up new readers, but it’s also an important step when the margins for victory (and thus a prize like a $20 PSN card) are so narrow.

          The one concession we do make, in terms of timetable, is that we don’t announce the winners until a few days have passed after the contest period has ended. That way, we know that the last articles in were given exactly the same opportunity. We’ve even gone back, months later, to double-check the results of prior contests, to see if a longer window would’ve made a difference in prize winners — and, so far, we’re happy to report it would’ve made no difference at all. Had it, we would have been forced to change our contest processes.

          The only other tidbit I can offer which seems to boost visitor numbers: writing about hot new game releases tends to pull more search engine traffic, whereas writing about “evergreen” social issues in Home tends to extend the shelf life of an article and its residual traffic numbers. Regardless of tactics to maximize traffic, though, the overwhelming truth of HSM’s golden rule of writing remains: the articles that perform best are the ones in which the author writes more about how the subject of the article made them *feel,* rather than the subject itself.

          It’s sort of like the difference between reading a car review on Edmunds and then reading the same car review by Jeremy Clarkson. The former is a quick and straightforward info dump, whereas the latter is an entertaining and highly re-readable romp full of emotions.

          Anyway, sorry for the length of the reply, but it was a golden opportunity to shed some light on the meticulous planning and processes that go into every aspect of HomeStation — it’s not a shoot-from-the-hip fan blog — and hopefully it demonstrates that we really do lay things out as carefully as possible to make sure that everyone who chooses to write something for HSM is given every opportunity to shine.

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