Posted by: michellemuldoon | June 27, 2014

Contests: The Writer’s Perspective Pt. 2

Every writer's best friend.I posted the first part of this article at the beginning of the week, and here it is, as promised, the conclusion. This was originally published in the October 2013 Edition of Hollywood Scriptwriter.

The Writers’ Perspective


This might sound silly, but to the seasoned contest competitor, the inability of the contest to stick to a deadline is glaring. Often, contests continually extend deadlines, claiming they’re trying to be fair to everyone. What’s truly fair is honouring the efforts of the writers who meet the originally advertised deadlines. If contest entrants are ever to become working writers, then knowing how to work to deadline is important. Note to contests, stop extending deadlines.

Film festival competitions are in a different position. They have a festival deadline to meet that won’t be moved. And to many writers, that makes them a favoured entry. By extending deadlines, contests and competitions are increasing their revenue, and that fact is not hidden to writers.

Maggie Franks states, “Often when I enter contests, I feel like I’m just buying a lottery ticket.”

Contests and competitions need to walk the talk. Honouring and respecting writers means honouring and respecting their own contest and competition deadlines.


Does winning really lead to success? Rarely, but it should lead to something. Again, don’t make promises you can’t keep.

Neil Chase is a recent Nicholl Fellowship quarter-finalist. He sums it up quite nicely.

“My pet peeve is contests that don’t deliver on their prizes. I’ve won several contests now that promised some kind of physical award (statue, software, money, etc) and I’ve yet to receive it. With all of these, it was the same story – they notify me that I won and tell me something’s on its way in a few days or weeks. And of course, nothing ever comes, even after repeated queries and phone calls well after the fact. I’m always thrilled to win a contest, but don’t promise me something more if you don’t intend to deliver on it. You already have my patronage, so why would you want to lose it after you already have it? That’s just bad business.”

To the contests that do mail out awards, folding a certificate is just plain wrong, while emailing it is an even cheaper option for the event, it also doesn’t look good. Put an effort into your winners, mail a certificate flat. Give the writer something they can celebrate.

The advantage that film festival competitions have is the event itself. It’s a wonderful opportunity to network with working filmmakers, to promote story, to enhance a professional network, and to forge alliances and friendships that can be mutually beneficial down the road. There’s a tangible experience to have at film festivals, and if the festival does it right, the motivational benefits alone keep the writer coming back for more.


So, what are writers looking for in contests and competitions? What makes an event stand out from the rest? It isn’t a big mystery. It’s easily distilled common sense.

  • The contest and competition entrant is the customer. Keep them happy by keeping them updated. Update your websites, and use email to keep the customer informed.
  • Set a deadline and live by it. Don’t treat the customer like you only see them as a “cash grab”. Writers can see through it, and there’s no way it can be spun into anything else.
  • Provide some form of recognition or reward. It can be a plaque, prize money, or an emailing to production companies. Provide the writer with a copy of the email so they know it went out.
  • Press release to trades. A contest result doesn’t help the writer if no one knows they won. If you’re proud of the quality of winners in your contest, join in a partnership with your winners and share the good news.

The formula for a successful event is simple; treat the writer as the client, do what you promise, and everyone is happy. Writers talk to each other, comparing notes and experiences online and in private. The quality of an event can eventually suffer if the event doesn’t listen to the needs of the customer.

The advice Aaliyah Miller gives to fellow writers says it all, “It gets on my nerves when contests over promise and under perform. Always read the fine print and if something isn’t clear, clarify it before submitting.”


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