There are few things more thrilling than receiving a prize package at your front door. And who doesn't love a brand new robot t-shirt? Instructables always has an awesome contest running. If you've never entered one now is a great time. Of course, if you don't enter you can't win. Here are a few ways to give your instructable a fighting chance.
Note: The contents of this instructable are based on my personal experience and do not necessarily reflect the views of instructables or its parent company. All photos used are under public domain.
Step 1: When in Rome...
Instructables has a culture. To know what makes a good instructable you have to know what a good instructable looks like. Check the home page often. That's where featured instructables go. Featured means your doing things right.
Keep in mind, like real life, cultures change. For example when I first joined, circuit boards and nixie tubes were about as high tech as you saw. Nowadays laser cutters, 3D printing, and arduino are common place.
Stay in the loop by visiting instructables. Check out the latest builds. When you do, read the comments. See what people are saying. Leave a comment yourself.
Staying current will help you think of "up to date ideas" for the next contest.
Step 2: Participate
Obvious right? If you don't come to the table you can't eat. When you enter a contest you're more likely to check it often to see the entries you're up against. You can list the entries by views to see what's getting the most attention. Generally higher quality instructables rise to the top. Take note.
When winners are announced you might notice that instructables with the most views don't always take the grand prize. That will further narrow your understanding on the right amount of "click factor" for a win. While gimmicks might boost views, a quality instructable will trump.
Even if you're thinking you don't have a chance, enter anyway. Every project is a skill builder. Eventually you'll collect the "know how" needed to be on top.
Step 3: Keep Your Eye on the Prize
Often, prizes are related to the contest theme. If the prize is something electronic, an entry which includes electronics has a better chance. If the prize is a tool, include what that tool does as part of the process to your build. For example, if you're trying to win a mixer your instructable should include mixing. If you're trying win a prize that's computer controlled (ie: a laser cutter) your instructable should also be computer controlled.
In my opinion true winners are folks who can win the grand prize without spending as much money as the grand prize costs. However that often takes a very clever and unknown idea followed by a high quality end product.
Step 4: Take Good Photos
Photos are your first impression. Make sure they are clear and free from any clutter. When you take a picture all you should have in the frame is the tool your using and the item you're using it on. Trash, other tools, scraps from other steps, all should be cleared out. Also, center the shot on what the tool is doing. If your using a saw, center the picture right where the teeth are contacting the material.
For some folks pictures are the entire instructable. I often get questions which were answered in the first paragraph of the intro. The point is, the better your pictures the longer someone will stick around and possibly throw you a vote. Nothing finds a back click faster then a bunch of blurry photos.
Step 5: Tell a Story
We are emotional creatures. Adding background to a project helps connect readers to what you've done. It's also a good way to share the "fails and wins" during the build.
Everyone has said "if I had to do it again...". Well, if you did than you would have sanded before the first coat of paint, made a template first, or mixed the dry ingredients beforehand. Sharing mistakes is part of the point here. Your experience refines the creative process for the newcomer.
Doing this will help get you featured, which gives you views, which helps your vote count, which gives you a better chance of winning.
Step 6: Spirit of the Contest
Every contest has a paragraph discussing what they're looking for. Major contests include more guidance in the official rules. Though an entry may qualify for a contest, it doesn't mean it stands a chance. For example, "anything bacon related". You could draw a picture of bacon and that would fly. It will not win though.
Often the contest graphics will have images of potential entries. That's a good way to get a feel for the spirit of the contest.
Step 7: Research the Sponsor
Many contests are sponsored by an outside company. Go to that sponsor's website to see what they're all about. See their advertisements. Keep in mind sponsors may provide a judge of their own to help determine winners. If your entry complements their company it definitely doesn't hurt your chances.
If your instructable happens to use a sponsor's products, stage their logos in your photos. It doesn't have to be completely obvious or even in focus. One example is water proof pouches. Can you find the sponsor's logo in step 4?
Step 8: Check the Archives
Past contest are a great resource. You can go back to the beginning of time (instructables time) and see the winners to every contest. This not only gives you an idea of what the contest gods are looking for but also clues you in to reoccurring contests.
You might also find creative superstars like Brittliv and Honus. Follow them and every other person who has the voltage to power a grand prize.
Step 9: Meet My Friend Rejection. Yes, We've Met Before.
Don't be discouraged. Not winning will always be in the cards. I feel the best way to approach a contest is to make your entry a gift. That way your creation has a primary purpose and winning is a true bonus.
For example I have a nephew who loves the video game Team Fortress 2. Together we built a replica wooden axe from one of the characters in the game. He still has it displayed in his room. Though I never took pictures of that project it would have been a great entry in the game 2 life contest. Entering and winning would have been awesome. But the main point of the project was to spend time together and learn about power tools with his uncle. Regardless of what happens with the contest, it's already a win.
Another thing. Materials for different contests can get expensive. Having a pre-planned use for your creation is much better than having a useless object gather dust.
Step 10: Final Thoughts
So why give away the secret recipe? Instructables is an awesome website. I want it to thrive. Awesome things get attention and I want that attention right on this site. I know I'm not alone. If you have a chance check out all the exit interviews from the artist in residence program. If that's not inspiring I don't know what it is.
I love to enter contests and will keep on doing it. I also know competition forces everyone to up their game. Sometimes I'll check out the entries to a contest and say in my head "they got me". That's the entry that has out-skilled, out-documented and, out-thought my project. All it means is I have to keep working and adding to the materials I can work with and the tools I can use.
For me personally, Instructables has meant this. Spending extra time with my children because they make great camera operators and photographers when I need a hand. Being a cool Dad because I take them to the ice cream shop next to the hardware store during a project. Having something handmade to give my wife for Christmas. Having a conversation starter when I find myself waiting next to a stranger. Uncontrollable laughter with my brother when old memories come to mind.
It's more than just a contest entry. You'd be surprised.