This post is long overdue (for many reasons) but because of recent events with far-reaching fallout, it can wait no longer. For all creative people trying to break out and actually have their work produced in a meaningful way – one that ideally earns them a living – there has been a definitive paradigm shift. You no longer are expected (or required) to sell your soul, your body, or your values in order to get your work noticed. Some may say, “I would never do that to begin with.” But the truth is, we have all been a part of it, wittingly or not. Of course the big focus for the film industry started with Harvey, but the fallout reaches to all corners of media, publishing and entertainment.
Just this morning, two different outlets ran stories about how every business outlet is re-evaluating everything, (the links to these are at the end). Then on Friday, I was called into question for remarks I made about yet another writing competition — with zero credibility, and it got me thinking that it’s time for a writer beware post. I know so many of you have been working hard at your craft for what seems like an eternity, yours truly included, and at this time of year it’s easy to say, “I’m going to enter 5 competitions, or I’m going to pay for a consultant, or mentorship and if it doesn’t go anywhere, I’ll hang it up.” Creators get desperate, hope pumps through our veins eternal… and we never hang it up. We stew and get back on the horse in the New Year with a new fistful of dollars.
Over the last couple of months, a slew of new screenwriting competitions has come through my email. Most with very clever names that seem to give them a sense of authenticity. Hollywood this, Cannes that – all you have to do is send in (an average cost of) $50 and fame and fortune can be yours. There is also the rampant repurposed webinar model, usually with a catchy name that includes something credible sounding like University, or Agent Critique. This goes for screenwriting and books; there’s no limit to predatory behavior on what type of content you create.
Surely, this doesn’t have to do with the Harvey fallout you may be thinking. But it does. It is no different than the infamous casting couch, it’s where the slither meets the slime.
How so? These services prey upon creative people who want nothing more than to feel their work has legitimacy. I know of one writer pitching service, whose owner/operator would go so far as offering sexual favors to executives in exchange for them requesting to read writers’ scripts. So not only were they taking the money (and probably splitting it with the executive), they were stringing the writers along – in trade for sexual misconduct that would legitimize their “service” so they could keep the charade going (and get off at the same time).
Does this mean that all writer services and competitions are scams? ABSOLUTELY NOT.
Should you stay away from ALL pay services? ABSOLUTELY NOT.
It is up to us all to do our homework. Read the fine print.
Let me be perfectly clear, there are good people and organizations and they are here for the long haul. If they charge, it is to cover costs, not get rich quick.
There are a handful of competitions that are worthwhile, a select few of which have decision makers actually reach out to winners.
If film is your track, there are also fantastic short script film competitions that go from script to production prizes, showing in these are a great way to build your brand.
The Internet is your friend. A five-minute search and you will find out where winners of competitions are now and at the very least the experience and legitimacy of who is judging your material. If you are a screenwriter, invest in imdbpro. At the very least sign up for the free trial and search. Don’t take it at face value if a competition or pitch service claims that they are looking for a specific type of material. Search the names and see what they have done, and where they actually work, and in what capacity.
I started this website almost a decade ago as a safe place for writers. It’s free – no ads, no bias promotion. Its costs come completely from my pocket, and the writers that see success, learn something, or make a valuable connection are in no way obligated to me.
If a competition does not offer you any legitimate exposure that can move the needle on your career (ie: a meeting with an agent or producer) ask yourself if the chance at a placement where winning means seeing your name listed with hundreds of others in a mass email is worth the cost of submission. Find out who the readers are, who the judges are. If they don’t have verifiable industry experience with recent credits (within the last 10 years), walk away.
If a service needs you to arrange payment plans or tries to get you a credit card to afford it, wait a week and see if you are willing to go down that slippery slope. If a service ropes you into a monthly cost with no trial period or easy cancellation, don’t give it a second thought. There are some services cleverly designed to get you to pay a monthly fee and then toward the end of the month, there is a program that clearly will take the next month to get feedback on, and that’s how they keep you coming back.
If you are paying to pitch (and there is nothing wrong with this, these services do require maintenance and time), make sure the person you are pitching to is legitimately looking for material AND has the ability to do something with yours (some of these ‘pitchfest’ attendees are really only there for the money, especially if they are new to the industry and aren’t making any).
Do not pay for screenwriting lead aggregators; network instead. Join an online community and/or writers’ group or film group.
Something else to consider is whether you need an agent. I have no less than 10 projects in development (probably more): work for hire originals, rewrites, story notes, ghostwriting… the gamut. I have had this level of work for years with no agent. I have an attorney for contracts and the occasional submission and that’s it. I am a 200% working artist and have never been a starving one. How? Word of mouth (from said networking, and groups). It’s not always easy, but I’m in control and ultimately that’s what this post is about, taking control of your creative career.
Just like it took one person to open the floodgates of misconduct we now hear about daily. It only takes one person to expose the other types of offenders we creative people face. Remember, there is more to validity than a flashy name or touting UNverifiable successes, and if someone claims they are always in your corner, make sure they aren’t holding out their hand for payment (or something else).
Lastly, if you are about to enter a competition or sign up for a service, please feel free to contact me. I vet them all, and I am here to tell it like it is.
And you? You got this.