Your 15 Minutes of Fame—Learn from my Mistakes

One of my hobbies is photography, and it was a huge thrill to win 1st place in the Natural World category of Smithsonian magazine’s 7th annual photo contest in 2010. My photo was one of more than 40,000 submitted from around the world.

I wish I’d been a little more prepared for my 15 minutes of fame, though. Here are seven things I learned from winning Smithsonian magazine’s photo contest:

  1. You can’t win if you don’t enter: With such a large contest, I figured my chances of winning were unimaginably small. In fact, it never even occurred to me to enter until my husband encouraged me to do so. But someone has to win. Go ahead and enter. By the way, Smithsonian is accepting entries for their 8th annual photo contest until December 1, 2010.
  2. You never know what the judges will like: I entered another photo that I thought was significantly better than the frog photo that won. But the “good” photo didn’t make it to the finals. Who can figure out what the judges will go for? Good news: Smithsonian is developing a TV segment in which the editors will discuss their opinions about what makes a winning photo. It will air on the Smithsonian channel in 2011; watch my blog for details.
  3. Ask for help: My shot didn’t win the Readers’ Choice award, but a lot of people voted for it. That’s partly because I asked friends to cast their votes, and they came out in droves. It was a great experience to feel so supported by friends and family. Thank you, thank you, thank you!
  4. Have a plan: You know you entered, and you know you might win. But do you have any idea what you’ll do if it happens? I chose a deer-in-the-headlights strategy, but you could outline a plan ahead of time. Think about merchandising, or about donating your winnings or other proceeds to a worthy charity. I used the winning frog image to produce cards, mugs, and archival-quality prints (but not until after several people had requested prints). Get your own frog here.
  5. Be prepared: Make a list of PR outlets, blogs on which you could announce the win, and other places you plan to contact. Update your address book and your website. If you haven’t already done so, get a head shot (author photo) you like enough to use. Write a short author bio. Research simple print-on-demand options, like, and merchandising resources like CafePress.
  6. Use the news: It’s your 15 minutes of fame—use it. Tell everyone you know. Contact your local and hometown newspapers. Tell your alma mater. Send out a press release. Post on Facebook, Twitter, and other social networking sites. Use the news to promote your work, your website, or a favorite cause. (For many people, myself included, it’s harder to promote your own work than someone else’s. Do it anyway.)
  7. Keep moving: Winning one contest doesn’t decrease (or increase) your chances of winning another, so keep going. Use your momentum—track down the next contest and enter it. I list travel writing and photography contest opportunities on Travel Writers News; check there to find one that’s a fit for your work.


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