To contest or to critique?

After months of making critical choices — type, colors, designs, theme elements, coverage — do you want to put your work out there for the world to judge? Or worse yet, do you ask someone to pick apart every point and pica of your newly-minted masterpiece? Well, besides the students who are the ultimate judges of your book.

The decision to enter contests and request critiques can be a weighty one. Consider both.

Enter the contest:

Gaining recognition for your work from an outside source, can do amazing things for your program, whether it’s your state student publications organization or one of the national heavy-hitters, Columbia Scholastic Press Association (CSPA) or National Scholastic Press Association (NSPA).

First, and most importantly, it builds pride in the program. It’s a great way to have the community give the staffers a pat on the back for all their work. Principals and parents all love sports trophies. Why not give them an academic trophy to put in the case?

Also, winning a contest and collecting your award opens up so many opportunities for staffers. The process of getting a group of students from point A to point B is a bonding experience. Travel, even if it’s in-state, gives them a chance to see new places and things, meet new people and gain independence.

You may just win. One thing’s for sure, you won’t win if you don’t enter.

Where to start?

Study the winning books, which are often shared on the websites of the organizations. Size up your competition, and see how far you have to go. Look at your last four books, and find habits that may be holding you back.

Organizations offer different types of contests. There are whole-book contests, like Crowns and Pacemakers, but both CSPA and NSPA also offer contests for page spreads, stories, photos and other smaller feats of genius. Turn this into a lesson plan: Have students comb through their own work, especially graduating seniors, choosing a few things they might enter. Then assign them to write a self-critique and present it to the class.


Why would you hold back?

Some advisers say the process can be time-consuming and expensive. Others argue focusing on awards can pull a staff away from its goal of creating a yearbook the community supports, and most importantly, buys. The two are not mutually exclusive. You can please your community and a third-party judging panel.

The Case for Critiques

Critiques are completed mostly during the summer months by advisers and others who love yearbooks so much they want to see another school’s book improve. These critics, though, offer a single point of view. Value their input as it leads to creating a book which includes more and more students on your pages.

An outsider’s view of your book can prove useful in suggesting where adjustments need to be made and new ways to cover your community.

Here’s another lesson plan: Take the yearbook and the critique scoring guide in hand, and assign it to student pairs. (Maybe pair newbies with seasoned staffers as their mentors.) Give them a few days to review and set goals. Make sure your seasoned staffers take time to explain the major concepts of the critique to staffers. Have the newbies make a glossary of yearbook terms as they learn them. Turn this into a master document for all staffers. Have each pair of students prepare a quick presentation for the whole staff. Then put that old book away and focus on your next masterpiece. 


Columbia Scholastic Press Association

Membership & Crown Contest deadline

June 11 (spring delivery yearbooks)

Oct 1. (summer/fall delivery yearbooks)

Sign up for a critique when you submit your membership/crown entry. Regular membership ($259) includes both the Crown entry and the critique, associate membership ($219) is for Crown entries only.

NSPA (2018 yearbooks)

Individual Award Entries – June 22

Pacemakers – November (TBA)

Sign up for a critique when you renew your membership. Critiques and Pacemaker entries are included in Level 2 membership ($189/year)

Quill & Scroll

Yearbook Excellence Contest – Nov. 1