March 23, 2019 by Ann Marie Williams
Entering a screenwriting competition with the hope of winning is a great goal. After all, if a screenwriting career is what you’re after, then winning (or placing highly in) the right competition has the potential to move you further along that career path. Moreover, the competitions that have a track record of actually helping to launch careers are more likely to be legitimate and reputable.
However, many competitions receive hundreds — even thousands — of entries and select only a handful of winners. It’s not uncommon to see a reputable competition receive nearly 7,000 feature script entries, which (if you’re curious about the percentages) means that typically less than .001% of entrants actually win.
Now, you could argue that only some of those 7,000 entries are worthy of consideration for the win, which is probably true. And you could also argue that simply placing in a top competition can be enough to help launch your career, which (depending on the competition) can also be true.
But even then… If a competition’s quarterfinals represent the top 10% of entries, that’s 700 scripts that make it to the quarterfinals. And while that’s a lot of scripts, it also means 90% of entries do not make the quarterfinals — 6,300 scripts do not advance.
I’m not suggesting competitions should advance a greater quantity of scripts to their quarterfinals. Nor am I suggesting that entering competitions is a pointless endeavor.
But, as a competition entrant myself, I needed to find ways to benefit from the competition process other than winning. In other words, I needed goals that were achievable, that were within my control to achieve, and that were worthy of the time and money I spent entering competitions.
And that’s one of the main reasons I wrote Screenplay Competitions. To explain ways that writers can use the screenwriting competition process to better their scripts and themselves as a writers (and thus improve their chances at a writing career) — whether they win the competitions they enter or not.
Benefits of Screenwriting Competitions Other Than Winning
While Screenplay Competitions discusses the following topics in detail, this post will introduce you to some of the ways you can benefit from screenwriting competitions other than winning (or placing).
Many of these benefits are only achievable if you’re aware of them and open to them. If you’re focused on the win and only the win, you’ll miss an opportunity.
Is this an exhaustive list? Definitely not.
Will every competition offer every benefit? Nope.
But knowing which benefits you’re seeking can help you select the right competition/s for you, your script, and your goals.
Learning Your Script’s Rank
One of the reasons Screenplay Competitions discusses ways to determine how your script ranks in a competition is because learning where your script stacks up among thousands of other entries can be very helpful for new writers, as well as established writers who want to get reactions to a new script. A script that consistently places in the top 25% of entries (but no higher) will require a different level of revision than a script that consistently places in the top 10% of entries.
Be aware, however, that competitions offer varying degrees of insight to entrants about exactly where their scripts ranked. But that’s a topic for another post.
Identifying Your Script’s Genre
If you’re having trouble pinpointing your script’s dominant genre, you might consider entering competitions that use genre-specific judging (competitions that judge scripts only against other scripts entered in the same genre — instead of judging all entries against each other, regardless of genre).
This way, you can enter your script in the genres you think are a good fit, and based on your script’s placements in those genres, you should be able to determine the genre in which your script is best received (especially if you start to see the same results across multiple competitions). Maybe your script consistently places higher in drama than it does in action. Or, maybe it typically reaches the sci-fi semifinals, but never advances in comedy.
Pinpointing Your Script’s Strengths and Weaknesses
Some competitions will tell entrants how their script scored per judging criteria. This allows you to see, at a glance, the specific areas in which your script excels — or falls short.
Is your dialogue always complimented but your pacing is panned? Does your plot receive ten out of ten but your structure only a five?
It’s important to realize, however, that scores don’t tell the whole story. Scores won’t tell you why your script scored the way it did or how to go about fixing any problems.
This is one of the reasons most competitions won’t provide an entrant with criteria-specific scores unless that entrant purchases a written critique explaining the scores.
Many competitions offer some form of written critique in conjunction with your competition entry (either included with your entry or for an additional fee).
The length and depth of the critique offered, the cost, the content, the credentials of the individual who writes the critique (as well as whether the critique is written by your script’s competition judge or not), and when you will receive the critique, all varies from competition to competition.
Learning how to digest, analyze, and implement critiques will help you better your script, and yourself as a writer. Because, all the critiques in the world won’t help you improve if you don’t know how to deal with them. Moreover, if you want a screenwriting career, you’ll have to know how to deal with critiques. It’s a good idea to start learning how to do so now.
Patience and Focus
It’s perfectly normal to be excited for competition results to release. But, it can be very easy to get too focused on those results.
I speak from experience here: constantly checking one’s email to see if competition results released is not nearly as productive as channeling that energy into something that can actually improve one’s chances at a writing career: writing.
And this brings up another opportunity to better yourself as a writer: The ability to set one project aside and move on to another.
You have put months (or years) into your script, you probably spent every second leading up to the entry deadline polishing your script, the story likely captivated every available cell in your brain… you finally hit submit and — now you have to stop thinking about it.
It’s hard to let that story go, to switch your brain off to it, and move forward to another script. And, let’s face it, it’s a bit startling to go from a polished script to one that’s… well, not.
But, if you want to be a prolific writer, it’s a necessary skill to acquire.
This doesn’t mean you can’t return to the submitted script at some point (and for some scripts it will be sooner rather than later). But learning how to recognize when to move on from a script, when to give yourself a breather, when to start another script, and when to return to an old one… these are all skills that are helpful to learn if you want to improve yourself as a writer.
Motivation and Incentive
If the goal of entering a competition gives you the extra motivation to push through those painful rewrites, or if the idea of someone else reading your script fans the flame of excitement and makes final edits just a little easier, then competitions might provide the incentive you need to see you through the tougher aspects of writing.
Writing can be a long, solitary process. Entering screenwriting competitions, getting results and critiques, and knowing there’s the possibility you could win can be fun and exciting — a welcome feeling after the weeks, months, or years you’ve spent on your script.
Do you need deadlines to help you write? Don’t know? By entering a competition, you can determine if having an entry deadline helps or hurts your writing. Do deadlines make you feel pressured and too anxious to write? Or do they give you the incentive you need to push through tedious final edits?
Either way, if you want a screenwriting career, odds are you’ll have to write to deadlines eventually. You may as well start getting used to them now.
Reading and Understanding Agreements and Fine Print
This includes, in some cases, also having to read all those pesky terms and conditions and privacy policies of the competition’s parent site and/or the third-party submission source they use.
I know… it’s boring.
I know… it’s tedious.
I know… it’s confusing.
But it’s also crucially important.
Reading and digesting all the fine print can take a while. But it’s a fraction of the time you’ve put into your script. And fine print can greatly impact what happens to your script after you hit submit.
The good new is, the more you read fine print, the easier it gets. Besides, eventually, you’re going to have to sign a major contract with a major studio, right? So, why not be ahead of the game and start getting used to legal verbiage now.
Dealing with Disappointment — or Success
I suggest you use caution when making any major writing decisions while on the highs or lows of competition results. However, how you react to your competition success (or lack thereof) can be informative and insightful.
It’s difficult to get turned down over and over again. It doesn’t feel great and it doesn’t provide much incentive to get back to work. While there can be benefits to entering more than one competition, given the nature of competitions, odds are your script will not advance many times over (remember those statistics at the start of this post).
So… will you be okay with that? Will you be able to handle that disappointment and keep writing?
Or, if you’re one of the fortunate few who wins or places highly, will you be able to handle the success? Will you be able to remain critical of your own work when you’re being heaped with praise?
If you do well in a screenwriting competition, or if you make it past the first round of judging, or even if you just get a few good comments in a critique, a positive reaction to your script can validate that you’re on the right track and that (with enough work) you might just have a chance at a screenwriting career.
The degree of validation you receive, and the number of sources that provide it, will help you better understand where your writing currently stands and how much work you may need to do on your script.
Maybe you realize your script requires more work than you want to do — and that’s fine. Perhaps you’re not passionate enough about that specific story to see you through multiple rewrites. Or maybe you realize you love writing, but not rewriting, so you’re happy to write for your own enjoyment but don’t need to pursue it as a career.
Or maybe you realize that you’re actually eager to start rewriting because you believe in yourself, you believe in your script, and you’re willing to put in the work to make your script the best version it can be.
Entering a screenwriting competition with the hope of winning is a great goal. However, statistically, the chance of winning a screenwriting competition is small. Even if you’ve written a stellar script, the odds of making it through multiple rounds of competition (where multiple judges must agree on the merits of your script) are not very high. It can happen! But, if it doesn’t, it is nice to realize that you can still benefit from the competition process.
So, while I still enter screenwriting competitions with the hope of winning, my goal is to use the competition process to better my script, my writing, and myself as a writer. If I can do that, then the time and money I spend entering competitions becomes more than a chance at winning — it becomes an investment in myself. And that moves me closer to a screenwriting career… whether I win the competition or not.
Ann Marie Williams is the author of Screenplay Competitions: Tools and Insights to Help You Choose the Best Screenwriting Contests for You and Your Script, published (February, 2019) by Bluestocking Press.