Some screenwriting competitions offer so much publicity that entering is usually considered a smart move–if you’ve got a strong script.
Other screenwriting “competitions” are cruel scams run by online con artists to steal money from unsuspecting entrants.
Between these two extremes stretches a blurry field peppered with various entry fees, levels of exposure, and degrees of prestige.
You’ll need to decide which opportunities are worthwhile by applying some common-sense principles.
1. Pick a screenwriting competition run by a trusted organization
Not every screenwriting competition is run for the noble cause of helping hopeful artists, so be sure to Google any organizations involved before forking over a dime.
A contest without big names behind it isn’t necessarily a scam, but it’s probably not going to bring you much publicity, either.
2. Compare the cost of entering to the dollar amount of the prize
If a competition you haven’t heard of is charging high fees, start evaluating it by comparing the entry fee to the possible prize.
“If it costs $50 to enter,” said Jurgen Wolff, author of Your Writing Coach, “and the prize is only $500, I figure somebody’s making money on this.”
The smaller the ratio of prize to entry fee, the more suspicious you should be.
3. Check for reputable sponsors
A screenwriting contest without sponsors you’ve heard of could be legitimate, but it’s unlikely to be prestigious.
4. Figure out how long the screenwriting competition has been running and check up on past winners
When checking out a contest, read lists of past winners, Google information about previous years’ competitions, and check up on where the winning scripts went.
Use the Internet Movie Database to try to find out if any of the scripts made it as films.
If anything seems sketchy, e-mail past winners and ask about their experiences with the competition you’re interested in entering.
To find them, use Google and Facebook, or even send them letters care of the Writers Guild, if they are members.
If past winners didn’t get much out of a certain screenwriting competition, what makes you think you will?
5. Look for a screenwriting competition that offers feedback on your script
You might not win every time! Even if you’re very talented, you’ll be going toe-to-toe with a lot of screenwriters.
However, if you go for a screenwriting competition that offers feedback on your script, you are sure to benefit.
In a way, you can think of it as paying for feedback from industry pros. If you pay $20 to enter a competition, and get a one-page critique of your script back, you just got a cheap consultation from someone who knows what they’re talking about.
“Having judged a number of contests over the years,” said Marla White, an experienced script consultant from Los Angeles, “I would advise any writer to enter contests that offer professional feedback first. No matter how you place, you’ve come out a winner if you’ve learned something from the experience.”
6. Make sure you understand how much exposure the competition can give you
Before entering, ask who the judges of the screenwriting competition are and what criteria they base their decisions on.
Don’t be afraid to ask what kind of exposure your script will get if it wins, including whether it will be sent to influential people in the industry.
If so, find out who these influential people are and whether they’ve actually agreed to read over the winning entries.
If you’re not going to get any exposure out of this particular screenwriting competition, you might as well save your money for a bigger contest.
By doing your homework before entering a screenwriting competition, you’re more likely to put your valuable time and money to good use.