Researching and Evaluating Writing Contests

Tips for Evaluating Contests

• Sponsors
The people or companies sponsoring the contest should identify themselves and they should have film industry credentials. Some contests feature a well-known director, actor, publishing company honcho or producer as a nominal sponsor, implying that this person will read the final scripts or at least the winning one. If that is so, it should be stated in their guidelines or on their Web site – don’t just assume it’s true.

• Judges
Some contests post their judges’ names and credentials. I find this reassuring; however many legitimate contests don’t make this information available for various reasons, not necessarily because they’re hiding something shady. A general guideline: The less information the contest makes available, the more aggressively you should query the contest contacts before you write them a check.

• Press releases
You want to win a contest that makes an effort to publicize their winners. When you come across the press releases of contests that tout their finalists or winners, resist pitching a rant at your agent; instead swallow your envy and jot down the contest details so you can enter the next time around.

• Paid ads announcing winners
The most helpful form of publicity for contest winners are paid ads in the industry trade papers. This species is rare; but when you come across it, make a note to at least research the contests that promote their winners in Variety, Hollywood Reporter and the major film magazines.

• Industry contact
Many contests promise the winners and/or finalists will be exposed to important film industry or publishing contacts. Vague promises or innuendos don’t count. The legitimate contests get specific about what they mean by exposure. Exposure could mean a phone conversation with an agent, a script submission to a studio slush pile, a professional pitching session with a publisher or an all-expense paid trip to Hollywood or New York City. Find out.

• Production promises
Some contests promise that the winning script or scripts will be produced. Yipee! But do they back up this promise with results? Find out – call their bluff. Tip for cynics: Request a contact email for a previous winner or finalist.

IN SHORT: BE CHOOSY!

I hope these guidelines help you find a contest that works for you. Be choosy – it’s your money, your work and your career.

Lenore Wright has 15 years experience selling spec scripts and movie pitches in Hollywood and New York. Her site, BreakingIn.net, offers visitors a place to search for script agents, how-to articles and a free bi-weekly newsletter called Script Market News. Lenore is also the author of the E-Book, How to Break into the Screenwriting Business.