Brit Writers' Awards
I've been getting questions recently about the Brit Writers' Awards. It's a writing competition for unpublished and self-published writers, with a rich trophy for the grand prize winner: £10,000. Writers can submit work in several categories (to enter, you must be a member of BWA; membership costs £10.95); a panel of judges selects two winners for each category, plus the grand prize winner (the Judging Criteria page references "various stages of the judging process" but doesn't say what those stages are).
BWA's judges have real credentials. But how rigorous was the judging process in last year's competition? According to Jane Smith of the excellent How Publishing Really Works blog,
Writers were being notified left, right and centre that they had made it through to the various shortlists; very few writers who entered ended up being told that their work hadn’t made it that far.Shades of Poetry.com. And that wasn't all:
[C]ommunications with BWA seemed less than satisfactory. Several writers had submitted more than one piece of work but were never informed which piece had reached the shortlists; people were offered free tickets to the prizegiving, but just days before the event they had heard nothing more; and when they did get to the event it was chaotic and didn’t seem to deliver all that had been promised.The grand prize winner received not just the promised money, but--apparently unbeknownst to her--rush publication of her YA fantasy novel by a publisher that had never before published fiction. Jane comments:
[S]uch a rushed schedule is likely to have serious implications for the quality of the final product...the publisher, Infinite Ideas, appears to be more of a packager than a publisher; and although the people who work for Infinite Ideas do have a reasonable amount of publishing know-how between them this is the first young adult book they’ve published; although it’s possible that they have previously published young adult books through their self-publishing service, Infinite Authors.As Jane notes, the BWA is a moneymaker--entry feees alone came to nearly £230,000 in the first round in 2010, and that's not counting the support BWA got from sponsors. And that's not all. The BWA is now promoting its own consultation, critique, and publishing service, Your Book Your Way (which includes a referral service to "BWA approved" agents and publishers that "allow[s] us to act on your behalf and negotiate the best deal for you."). Prices aren't mentioned, but the services are certainly not free. And BWA has also recently sent out solicitations inviting applications to its Publishing Programme, which will select 15 unpublished authors, work with them "on an intensive one-to-one basis" (there's no info on who these intensive mentors will be, or what their qualifications are), and at the end of a year guarantee publication with "a top publisher" (again, no info on the publisher--and anyone who tells you they can guarantee publication either wants to sell you something or is fibbing). The cost? Just £1,795.
I don't suspect that this competition or its adjunct programs are a scam. But as tempting as BWA's prize money is, there are enough questions here to prompt caution.
(The lengthy comment thread on Jane's post makes for fascinating reading--among other things, the grand prize winner confirms that BWA entry guidelines did indicate that the winner would be published--although she had no idea her book would be printed for the awards ceremony.)
The Web was abuzz in November with news that Amazon is getting into the movie business. Its new venture, Amazon Studios, is looking for films and scripts that it may produce as feature films, either through a "first look" deal with Warner Bros. or, if Warner passes, with another company. To incentivize submissions, it's giving away millions of dollars in prizes, via monthly contests and annual awards.
Writers have rushed to enter--already, according to the Amazon Studios website, more than 1,000 scripts have been uploaded. But is it really a good idea to hand your intellectual property over to Amazon Studios? The film world is not my area of expertise, so I don't really feel competent to analyze Amazon Studios' Contest Terms and Procedures. Fortunately, others more knowledgeable than I have already done so. If you're thinking of entering, there are some issues you ought to be aware of.
Amazon Studios employs a crowdsourcing model, with uploaded scripts and films open to feedback from readers, who are also free to re-write and amend them. Scriptwriter John August asks, Do you really want random people rewriting your script?
Writer and director Craig Mazin weighs in on the same issue, as well as the 18-month exclusive option you agree to by submitting to Amazon Studios:
When you submit material to Amazon–say, a script–they have an exclusive option on the script for 18 months. During that 18 months, they can do whatever they want with your script. They can change it, smash it together with other scripts… and of course, make a movie from it, or commission a book, or any other derivative work.Mazin also discusses Amazon's exploitive financial terms:
You know what else they get to do? They get to sell your material. They can sell your script to customers. If you submit a movie, they can sell that too. Oh, but that’s not just for 18 months.
That’s FOREVER. They have a permanent right to sell that stuff. After 18 months it’s not an exclusive right, but good luck competing with Amazon, friend-o.
In Amazon-ville, you option your script for NOTHING, and the option buy-out is $200K. And when you get that 200K, my brothers and sisters, Amazon owns that script lock-stock-and-barrel for ever, just the way a studio would.Scriptwriter Michael Ferris sounds similar warnings. "In effect, if your script was good enough that a studio would buy it, and you hadn’t submitted your script to Amazon, you probably would have made more money on the sale, you would have full rights to your material, AND no one else would have the ability to put their name on it."
Okay, okay, but what if they make the movie?
NO GUARANTEES. Not a dime. In fact, the only way you get a penny more is if the film grosses $60M in the U.S. (not North America, btw, which is standard for domestic B[ox] O[ffice] calculations). If it hits $60M, you get a bonus of $400K.
Let me put this as plainly as I can: if your screenplay was good enough to be distributed by Warner Brothers and subsequently sell enough tickets to hit $60M at the box office, YOU DID NOT NEED AMAZON, and YOU SHOULD HAVE MADE MORE THAN $600K.
In other words, as usual and as always...caveat scriptor.