My video "5 Models Redefining Beauty" has over 7.7 Million Views

Back in May, I created a video for POPSUGAR called "5 Models Redefining Beauty in 2015," and it has now over 7.7 million Facebook views and almost 25K views on Youtube. 


CREDITS
Executive producer: Carla Hawkes
Created by: Teresa Lo
Written by: Becca Frucht
Produced by: Brendan Lahr
Edited by: Brandon Blanks
Studio: POPSUGAR Studios

Review: The Black List script hosting service and coverage

The following is a reprint from a post published on August 29, 2014. 

Approximately one year ago, I paid $25 to use The Black List script hosting service for a month. Like Inktip, The Black List service allows writers to upload a script so that industry professionals can find it based upon whatever tags they choose. What distinguishes The Black List from Inktip, however, is that you (the writer), other users, and industry members can find and rate scripts. The ratings of the scripts can be made public or private based on what you decide, and the public ratings are only determined by industry members or paid readers. (That means your fellow writers can't be haters and bash your work to lower your score.) All scripts with a rating of 8 out of 10 or better from a script reader would be promoted through the company's email blasts.

The last bonus for The Black List site is that it partners with groups such as the Writers Guild of America (WGA), Warner Brothers, and Disney; and writers can submit to these partners' writing opportunities for free if their work is listed for at least a week. When I hosted my script, I submitted for one of these fellowships, and the submission process was easy.

When I used The Black List service a year ago, I paid for a one month listing and $50 coverage for my horror script THE LADDER. THE LADDER centered around a desperate young woman who moved  in with her sister's strange, sadistic family. My script was viewed fifteen times, but no one ended up contacting me. I concluded that my viewing rate was low for two reasons. 1) One month was not enough time to give my script time to be found, but I did not want to pay for multiple months because of the cost 2) My script received an average rating from only one user, the paid reader. No one else had read or reviewed my script, and my average score meant that it would not receive promotion on the site.  Fair enough.

If someone were to ask me if I recommend The Black List hosting service, I would tell them to be aware of the amount of time necessary to get noticed on a site (3 months to a year), and to calculate that with the overall cost when making a decision. However, the $25/month is worth it if you think of the $25 fee as an application fee for the The Black List partners' fellowships. It is noted that WGA writers are allowed to list log lines and information about their scripts for free.

Although I am neutral when it comes to the site's listing service for aspiring screenwriters, I do highly recommend its coverage. When it came to THE LADDER, I liked the script overall, especially its ending, but I sensed there were story problems. I was hitting a wall when it came to pinpointing what those problems were specifically, and my coverage from The Black List did a good job of outlining the good and bad parts of my story. Although my coverage was only one page, it was concise, and it put me on the right path to a rewrite. Even though a year has passed, I have not done any new work on that script, but maybe after a rewrite, I'll try to list my work again. We'll see what happens if my script actually achieved a score worthy of promotion.

Self-publishing help: Category choice and its impact on Amazon sales

A fellow writer sent me the following question about self-publishing, and I wanted to share it and my answer with my blog readers:

How much do you think category choice on Amazon has mattered in terms of book sales? 

When it comes to self-publishing, category matters. For instance, all three books of my series  The Red Lantern Scandals has been in the top 100 list of Asian-American literature, and they were also briefly in the top 100 list of erotica titles. The books' placement in these lists helped me in regards to sales because being in a top 100 list helps you get noticed, and when it comes to book sales, one of the main battles is having readers find you amidst all the thousands of other titles out there.

The Red Lantern Scandals focuses on the lives of four millennial Chinese-American women in Los Angeles. While there is graphic sexual scenes in the books, the series could have easily been categorized under Women's Literature or even under the Thriller category because of a mystery element that is a thru line of the series. However, if I had chosen to categorize my books in those broad categories, I would have had to compete with mainstream titles that sell 100,000 to a million copies. If I went niche, I could make it on a top 100 list by selling much less than that and not having to compete with as many titles. That's why I  made the marketing decision to categorize my books as Asian-American erotica, and I believe it was that niche category decision that gained the books and myself attention.

One thing I should add to all writers, though, is to not miscategorize their work. That's worse than competing with traditionally published titles. For instance, if your book is marketed as African-American Christian fiction, but it turns out your work is not intended for Christian audiences, you will anger your audience and get bad reviews. Thus, although you should always try to be strategic, being honest with what you are selling matters the most.

  
The following was a reprint of a post published on August 27, 2014.

Hollywood etiquette tips for new writers

The following is a reprint from an article published on The Daily T.Lo on August 24, 2014.

MC Foley, author of one of my favorite indie books, The Cure, has a new book out on Amazon called 10,000 Likes. It's a juicy portrayal of a wild life in West Hollywood, California; and it's a story told in a non-traditional way through social media posts. 10,000 Likes is available on Amazon.

MC gave a great interview almost a year ago for The Daily T.Lo, and she talked about blogging and breaking down the misconceptions of what it means to be a writer. For those who didn't read the interview, MC is not only an accomplished author but she is also the coordinator of the Writers Guild of America's Showrunner's Program (a major Hollywood TV writers program.) She's an expert at navigating the world or professional scriptwriting, and in the previous blog post "MC Foley wants you to get off the couch!" she provided some tips on how to make it in Hollywood. Here's a reprint of her tips from that interview:

HOW TO MAKE IT IN HOLLYWOOD, ETIQUETTE TIPS AND ADVICE FROM MC FOLEY:
  1. Do NOT ask people for favors or to give you things when you’ve just met them. That is about one of the worst things you could ever do, and yet I see it happen all the time. Why in the hell should this person tell you how to get an agent or read your script when you’ve just met them?? Do you realize how disrespectful that is? Disrespectful of this person’s time as well as this person’s life work. For them to be at the level they’re at they have definitely invested YEARS of SWEAT and hard, hard work. For you to just ask for things makes you look either ignorant, selfish, desperate, childish or just plain stupid. I’m ranting here because I’ve seen it happen SO OFTEN. It boggles my mind. You need to build relationships with people on a human level – and not in an insincere way. People are smart out here, they can sniff that bullshit out pretty quickly. 
  2. Talk less and listen more. 
  3. Write a lot of material. You need an arsenal. 
  4. Take critiques. You’re new. And even if you’re not new, there is always something to learn. If anyone gives you notes on your writing, just listen to the note and consider it later. Do NOT get defensive. Especially if the person read your shit for free. That’s arrogant and you just burned the fuck out of a bridge. 
  5. Be prepared to work your motherf^&*(ng ass off. 
  6. Be prepared to hammer away at this for years without a break through. 
  7. Considering that last point… pay attention to every tiny, positive thing and write it down. “Had a great conversation with so-and-so.” “Read a great script.” “Went to a cool screening Q&A.” “Learned more about post production today.” Be proud of your gradual, daily accomplishments because if you really stay focused and driven and humble and open, you will find that you are making progress each and every day.
You can connect with MC on Instagram or Facebook, and don't forget to check out her book, 10,000 Likes!

4 Books Every Journalist Should Read

Dateline NBC Correspondent Josh Mankiewicz returns to the T.Lo Club for our continuing series of book recommendations from respected writers. Today, he gives us his list of books that every journalist should read and why.

"4 Books Every Journalist Should Read" by Josh Mankiewicz


**Josh Mankiewicz is a Dateline correspondent based in Los Angeles. He began reporting for Dateline in February 1995, and since then, he has contributed a mix of breaking news stories, news analysis, investigative reports and clever features to the broadcast. (Bio courtesy of NBC) To connect with Josh, you can find him on Twitter


This is a reprint of a post originally published on November 20, 2013.

Review of Inktip, a service for screenwriters

The following is an updated version of a post published on July 23, 2014. For the original post, click here.

I hate the idea that succeeding as an artist can often be a "pay to play" endeavor, meaning that you have to fork over a fee to get in the game; but unfortunately, the reality is that often times you do have to pay money to get noticed. 

One website that I've tried in my pursuit of getting noticed as a screenwriter is InkTip. For a fee, the site allows writers to upload their scripts so that production companies, producers, or representatives can browse for scripts that fit their need. When listing, the writer uploads a treatment, logline, information about awards or the writer's resume, and script data such as genre and budget. One session lasts six months and per script the service costs $65. However, if you upload multiple scripts or sign up for an automatic renewal, you will receive a discount.

I was referred to the site years ago by an indie producer I knew. He made a movie for less than $20,000, and I asked him how he found his writer. He told me he looked for scripts through Inktip, and that as a producer, he didn't have to pay a fee.  Learning that the writer pays a fee but not the company made me think that maybe this site would provide some value to me as a writer. There probably wouldn't be a ton of scripts because of the fee, but there were probably a ton of companies, producers, and representatives because the site was free to them and easy to use.

I uploaded the manuscript for my novel Hell's Gamethe features scripts for my family drama The Physicist, my USC thesis, Sexual Panda and the Reluctant Hipster, and my thriller Madness; and all the loglines and treatments that the website requiredWhen I saw the price tag, I admit that my eyes bugged out, but I was tired of querying nearly sixty agents or managers with little to no response so I reasoned that uploading to Inktip was like paying a convenience fee.

As each day passed, I was surprised to see that someone was checking out at least one of my listings. Inktip has a fascinatingly addictive system which shows you who looked at your listing and what they looked at. I saw that Hell's Game and Madness were often checked out, but no one ever looked at The Physicist or Sexual Panda and the Reluctant Hipster. Seeing that lack of response was humbling for me. "Okay," I thought. "I really do have to accept that if my script doesn't have a super catchy logline then no one is going to give a shit."

In the course of six months, Hell's Game and Madness moved beyond the logline and treatment phase, and a few companies actually downloaded the entire script. When a company reaches the download phase, Inktip then provides you, the writer, with the company's contact information. They also provide a caveat which paraphrased is "Don't stalk these people."Although I finally had enough of the company's information to contact them, I didn't, but I did Google the names to see who was reading my work. I was actually pretty impressed with those names' credentials, but I also figured that if they weren't contacting me after reading my work, then they were probably not interested. 

After my listings expired, I chose not to renew because of the cost, but I was satisfied with the service and if I had new material I would upload again. In my mind, it didn't make sense to keep paying money to advertise something that no one really seemed to want. However, Inktip does have a great free weekly newsletter, which I recommend every screenwriter sign up for. The newsletter obviously is trying to get you to pay for a listing, but it also has a few script requests such as the one below taken from the newsletter blasted out June 26, 2014:
1) Infra-Red Films - Seeking Family-Friendly Animal Scripts
We are looking for completed, feature-length family-friendly comedy or drama scripts with stories involving an animal, especially if it's a dog or a horse. Submissions need be for material that is suitable for a broad television audience.

Budget will not exceed $5million. Only Non-WGA writers should submit.

Our credits include "Border Run," which was shot from a script we discovered through InkTip.

To submit to this lead, please go to:
http://www.inktippro.com/leads/

Enter your email address.

Copy/Paste this code: j2e7rsynkm
After giving a few free leads, the newsletter then lists additional script requests where the submission information is hidden unless you pay a fee for a service they call the preferred newsletter. Additionally, Inktip also offers for a fee a listing in a magazine that they send out to companies. 

Read this before you enter a screenplay contest!

This is a short selection from an amazing interview with screenwriter Lydia Mulvey, who is a screenplay contest veteran having placed in the finals of the PAGE Screenwriting Contest and having won the BBC Sharps Contest. To read the entire interview, click here.

Advice to any aspiring screenwriters about screenplay contests by Lydia Mulvey 
  • Be selective. Choose your contests wisely. There are a lot of scam contests there. Aim to enter the more prestigious contests such as the Nicholl, Austin, PAGE etc.
  • Be ready. Don't submit a sub-par script. You must feel happy with your work. Forget any "that'll do" attitude. It won't do. It really won't. Screenwriting contests are open to anyone willing to pay the entry fee. Readers have a lot of chaff to cut through before they get to the tasty wheat grains. Make sure your script is tasty wheat grain.
  • Submit your script, then forget about it. Seriously. You have to wait MONTHS before you hear back on contests. You'll drive yourself mad if you keep obsessing about it. So keep busy. Work on another script. Get a body of work behind you.
  • Don't treat screenplay contests as the be-all and end-all of everything. They are just one way into the industry. And even if you win, they are not guaranteed to open the door. So keep submitting elsewhere, keep making connections, keep networking. You don't win a screenplay contest and automatically earn a million dollars a script. You just don't.
This is a reprint from my blog. The original was published July 25, 2014.

Writers, beware: this is what happened when a "producer" tried to take advantage of a naive young writer

This is a reprint of my blog post from July 2014. 

LIFE AFTER BLUECAT 
In 2010, I was a finalist of The BlueCat Screenplay Contest for my script The Physicist, a family drama about a Chinese-American family adjusting to life in a small town in Kansas. The story was very personal to me because I was raised Chinese-American in a small town in Kansas, and my script was an ode to my childhood and my town.

After my finalist placement was announced, the head of Bluecat, Gordy Hoffman, met with me for coffee to give me script advice. He was blunt with what I needed to fix, and he said that once I made changes, he thought that I should make the film. He gave me some information about how to put an indie movie together and his suggestion about how much he thought it would cost. His advice was reasonable and he was encouraging, but after the meeting, I knew deep down that I was not going to make my own film that year. Because of my debt from film school, the idea of asking people and spending a large sum of money scared me. The Physicist would metaphorically sit on a shelf and collect dust.

MERCEDES IS THE MAN WHO WILL MAKE MY HOLLYWOOD DREAMS COME TRUE!
About a year later, I was contacted by a man, who I will refer to as Mercedes. Mercedes told me that he was a director looking for Chinese-American writers and scripts. He had contacts in China who were only interested in Chinese or Chinese-American content, and he had learned about me because of my placement with Bluecat and through an Asian-American organization where we were both members. He said that he wanted to speak with me about writing feature scripts for him for deferred payment, and as per his request, I sent him The Physicist as a writing sample.

Shortly after, I met with Mercedes at his production company, and he told me that he had directed one short film that starred Asian-American actors I recognized. He then told me that his producing partner had made several films that had gone straight to video. He and I connected with our passion for the need to create quality Asian-American stories, and I liked that he seemed hungry to make a name for himself as a director the way that I was hungry to prove myself as a writer. He shared with me that he wanted to direct The Physicist, that he wanted me to rewrite his Asian-American script, and that he wanted me to write a third script based off a pitch from a Chinese production company. He then showed me a budget breakdown and his proposal for his Asian-American script, and in the proposal, he included the actors who would star in the film. One actress was someone I had met years ago, and I really respected her. If she was signed on to be involved, then I definitely wanted to be a part of the project.

Overall, after our meeting, I was ecstatic. I was only two years out of film school, and I had proven my talent with screenplay contests and now I was being offered a three-picture deal. 

"This would be a good opportunity for all of us, but it's dependent on funding," he said, "But if you're a team player, then I think we can make this happen." He then stressed to me how important it was that everyone he worked with was a "team player" because he was passionate about filmmaking and only wanted to surround himself with passionate people. He told me that even though I was the writer, he wanted to keep me updated with the producing aspects of the films, and I thought that was cool.

YOU CAN'T MAKE A MOVIE WITHOUT FUNDING
Our next step was to get the funding from the film investors from China. Mercedes, his producing partner, and I had dinner one night with the investors. The few there who could speak English told me more about what their company did, and I told them about my background. They thought my life story of growing up in Kansas was fascinating, and then Mercedes showed them information about my books, my film school education, and writing awards. They seemed impressed, and they gave me their business cards before the night was over.

The next day, Mercedes gave me the call that changed everything. The investors had liked Mercedes and his partner's business plan and they had liked me. They wanted to fully fund Mercedes' three projects: The Physicist, his original script, and the script based off the pitch from the Chinese company. Mercedes wanted me to start working right away on the pitch script's treatment, and I asked him when he would give me a contract to sign. He stated that he would get me a contract later, but that the Chinese investors were only in town for a short while and that they needed a treatment before they left. Wanting to be a team player, I quickly wrote what he wanted, and he submitted my work to them. He told me that they were satisfied with what I did but that they would probably have more notes. I brought up  the contract again, and he stated that he would probably budget $1,000 for each script. I was shocked at how low this was, considering how demanding he was with my time and how this number was a discrepancy from the budget breakdown he had shown me in our first meeting. I asked him if the upfront payment was low but that I would be getting a share of profits if the movies did well. "Um, no," he said. I was confused because I thought that was the whole point of deferred payment. People got shitty upfronts in the gamble that something paid well in the future. "You're not sounding passionate," Mercedes said. "I don't like how you're only caring about money."

"But are other people getting a portion of the profits?" I asked.

"Yeah," he said, "But they've been investing a lot more than you, so it's fair that they'd earn more."

I was upset, but I didn't know how to argue with him considering how I already done so much work for free. He then told me that he had one final meeting with the head of the Chinese financing company before everyone left town. Even though I wasn't invited to go to the meeting in person, Mercedes wanted me to be involved. I asked if a translator would be there, and he said probably not but Mercedes needed to speak with me in case the head of the company had notes about the story.

"What time are you meeting?" I asked.

"We're going to go out on Sunday and then we'll have the talk afterwards," Mercedes said.

"So what time is that?" I asked.

"I'm not sure. Just stay by the phone."

During this period of time, I had a boyfriend who was a talent assistant, and I asked him if this kind of scheduling was normal. "Absolutely not," he said. My boyfriend and I had a date planned for Sunday, and he thought it was weird that I wanted to cancel my plans to sit around, waiting for a phone meeting. Needless to say, I ended up agreeing with him, and we went out. During those hours, never once did I receive a phone call.

"MAYBE IT'S THAT YOU'RE TOO YOUNG AND THIS SITUATION IS NEW FOR YOU"

Later that night, my boyfriend and I returned back to my place, and we got ready for bed. That's when my phone rang.

"Are you fucking kidding me?" my boyfriend said.

"Should I answer it?"

"He calls you at night on a Sunday to be on a phone call in a language you barely understand?"

My boyfriend was tired, but the logic from his crankiness could not be ignored. Plus, I worked an office job that I needed to be at the next day.

"I don't know if I should answer it..." I said.

"No one sane conducts business like this!"

By the time we got done debating, my phone stopped ringing, and I received notice that I had a voicemail.

"Just go to sleep," my boyfriend said. "Deal with it in the morning like a normal person."

I should’ve listened to my boyfriend, but I still wanted to be a team player even though the myriad of red flags should've scared me away. I went ahead and listened to Mercedes' voicemail, and he was urging me to call him back. I called him back, and he didn't answer. 

“Just go to sleep,” my boyfriend urged. I agreed to just deal with it all in the morning. What a mistake that was. Mercedes called me two other times that night, berating my lack of professionalism and telling me that I was dropped from the project. Angry that I had done work for him for free and upset that he was firing me, I decided to just cut my losses and send him an acknowledgement that morning that our working relationship was severed. See my email below:



His  response was priceless, and by priceless, I mean abusive and condescending. Also, when you read this, please note the discrepancy of the money that he claimed the Chinese investors were giving him to pay for a writer and how much he had offered me earlier. See Mercedes' email below:



This whole story was unnecessarily dramatic and occurred in a span of approximately a week. (Yes, that was the timeline. Amazing, right?)

I left the experience feeling exhausted and exploited, but I was also thankful that I hadn't given up any rights. Luckily,  unbeknownst to Mercedes, I had been repped by an entertainment lawyer for a few years and I was somewhat educated in deals for writers. I should've consulted with my lawyer before ever starting work for Mercedes, but that was a rookie mistake on my part. Plus, Mercedes' manner was so chaotic, abrassive, and rushed that I tended to do things quickly for him without thinking.

Lesson learned: Assholes will try to manipulate you to doing things that are in their best interest but not yours. Be smart. Tell them to fuck off. 

THE STORY IS NOT OVER 
Some time after the fall out, Mercedes began to contact me again, but to my surprise, he approached me with humility and he even apologized. However, I wasn't interested in working with him. If he acted like that in one week, what would he act like once I had signed something and was obliged to put up with his behavior? Plus, he had already shown me his greed and lack of respect for me as a person, for my time, and for my talent. No amount of money would ever make his abuse worth my energy. He attempted to contact me several times, but I ignored him. 

In May of 2012, Mercedes called me again, and in his voicemail, he informed me that he needed a rewrite for his script and he had secured funding. He stated that he needed the rewrite done in one week, and he offered $1,000. Based on the timeline and money offered, I deducted that he hadn't really changed from my experience with him before. I listened to this query without responding directly, and I sent the information to my lawyer, asking him to deal with Mercedes because clearly Mercedes had no respect for me.

My lawyer spoke with Mercedes about the deal, and Mercedes now offered $2,000! I'm a fast writer, and making $2,000 in one week sounded awesome, but at the same time, I had friends who made $10K off of an indie film rewrite where they were give several months to complete the project. Taking a lower number with less time just made me feel undervalued. My lawyer countered back with an absurd number, which I knew would scare Mercedes away. My plan worked, and Mercedes said he didn't have that kind of dough and that he was talking with another writer who was repped by CAA anyway. 

Good riddance.To this day, I have heard nothing about Mercedes making movies, and this is quite telling considering that he actually was able to secure funding, which is usually the main barrier for a filmmaker to make his film. 

The button of this story happened shortly after when I attended an event, and I ran into the actress that Mercedes had listed in his film proposal for his movie. I asked her what was new with the project, and she had no idea what I was talking about. Although she had met Mercedes once in a professional setting, she had never signed up to be in his movie.

8 Websites to find writing or writing-related jobs

Although finding employment as a writer can be tough if you don't hear of anything through your network of friends;  there are luckily several job boards that exist with plenty of legitimate opportunities. The following nine websites are the top ones that I personally use or that my friends use to find writing or entertainment work. So in no particular order:
  1. LinkedIn: I like how LinkedIn has many professionals of all industries on its site, and I like how everyone's profile showcases their resume, skills, and network. When LinkedIn began to offer the feature of finding and applying for jobs, that added even more value to the site. I've applied for a ton of writing-related jobs using LinkedIn (mostly copywriting and social media gigs), and one feature that I'm a fan of is that they notify you when a recruiter reads your resume. Bonus that I know several people who have been recruited for new jobs with their LinkedIn profile.   
  2. StaffMeUp: This is the LinkedIn of film and TV production. You create your production profile, connect with your friends, and find production listings.
  3. Facebook: Finding work through your own network is usually the most powerful tool to finding a job. Since Facebook's primary purpose is to connect you with friends, it's naturally a great place to find work because often times it's your friends who are advertising that they are looking for staff. Besides using your own friend list, try to target alumni groups or filmmaking communities. Often those pages list job opportunities. 
  4. Craigslist: Craigslist is the wild west of job hunting. For every unpaid gig or porn listing, there are a few gems hidden in the mix. The important thing when job hunting through Craigslist is to be discerning. Is the listing detailed and written well? Does the person who responds to your query sound professional? Trust your gut when proceeding, but you would be surprised about how many legit opportunities can be found there. 
  5. MediaBistro: I look for copywriting, journalism, and ghost writing opportunities through MediaBistro, and most of the major publications, networks, and online companies post here. A great feature to the site is that it's easy to apply for multiple job listings, and they email you a confirmation with each submission. Plus, Mediabistro is not just a job search site. It has various blog posts about the media industry, and it's an insightful website for writers to check out. 
  6. EntertainmentCareers This website has a lot of listings for assistant jobs in the entertainment industry. It also has listings for other areas of entertainment, although maybe not as many. For instance, if you're looking for an advertising job, MediaBistro usually has a larger selection.
  7. TrackingB:To gain access to TrackingB's job listings, you have to pay a subscription fee. I found that the fee is worth it. However, they also have pretty kick ass writing contests and if you enter two or more scripts, they give you a year's subscription for free. TrackingB is great because it lists a lot of assistant jobs, and it also provides industry posts about who got hired where and what scripts are being sold and by whom. 
  8. Mandy: Mandy has a mix of unpaid and paid work, and not only can you find professional gigs on there, but often student film projects or other independent endeavors. 

Tips to copyright your fiction or screenplay

Writers frequently ask me about how to protect their work, and here is my general advice:
  • The second you create something i.e. put words to paper, then you own the copyright to your work.
  • Ideas cannot be copyrighted. If you tell people, "I have this idea where a robot marries a woman!" That idea is not protected. However, you write it, and that story is yours. Does that mean people cannot write a story about a robot marrying a woman once you wrote yours? That's iffy. If they have a unique take, then that may be allowed. You'd have to talk to a lawyer for specifics. The main thing you should be concerned with then is your execution, not your idea, because if someone steals your execution then that is an actual legal problem.
  • If you write a story and someone steals lines/paragraphs then that is plagiarism and a violation of your copyright. This is rare, yet it happens, so even though you own the copyright, what are further ways for you to protect yourself from this theft?
  • There is no need to use a third party to register your work. They'll just charge you unnecessary fees for something that would take you a few minutes to do at home.
  • Registering is voluntary, but if you have something that you are sending out and want to protect, then I recommend you register. 
For more in-depth copyright information, see the US Copyright Office's FAQ page:
http://www.copyright.gov/help/faq/

The 8 Best Screenwriting Contests to Enter in 2015

This list is a reprint that was originally published on December 7, 2014.

My list for 5 Screenwriting Contests worth entering in 2014 was a big hit last year, so I decided to do a follow up and amend some of my criteria. I still believe that writers should mainly look for contests with industry connections and to avoid contests with high entry fees, low prize money, and no Hollywood success; but after some more thinking, I felt that I should also just look straight at the prize money too. After all, if you win and you don't end up selling your script, then at least you can hold your head up high with your $10,000 or more check.

The following are my top eight picks for screenwriting contests in 2015.

1. Nicholl Fellowship: This is the most prestigious screenwriting contest that you can win, and even placing in the semi or quarterfinals may give you access to getting read by a Hollywood manager, producer, or agent. The contest is run by The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (the same people who give out the Oscars), and it has uncovered such screenwriters as Susannah Grant, Ehren Kruger, and Andrew Marlowe. Not only will winning a Nicholl give you bragging rights for life, but the prize is a fellowship of $35,000, which gives you one year to complete at least one more original feature film screenplay. Five winners are chosen. If you are limited on money and can only enter one contest this year, this is the one. http://www.oscars.org/awards/nicholl/index.html

2. Universal Pictures Fellowship: This fellowship is similar to ABC Disney's former screenwriting program in that it grooms writers to enter Hollywood and is sponsored by a major entertainment entity. While this contest is free to enter, the most difficult aspect (besides just having an amazing script) is that it requires letters of recommendations from industry professionals. That may be a barrier for those who aren't in Hollywood, but if that's not a problem, then I highly recommend applying: http://www.nbcunicareers.com/universal-pictures%E2%80%99-emerging-writers-fellowship 

3. Bluecat Screenplay Contest: I was a finalist for this contest in 2010, and after winning, the head of the contest, Gordy Hoffman, was kind enough to meet with me and give me notes and I was also contacted by independent producers who heard about my placement. In addition to its professional benefits, the cash prizes are pretty high. The grand prize winner receives $15,000 and finalists each receive $2500. But what truly distinguishes this contest from all others is that ALL ENTRANTS receive script analysis. Buying this service from professionals would cost you at least $50, so the fact that it’s included in the entry fee is an amazing deal. http://www.bluecatscreenplay.com

 4. Script Pipeline: In 2010, I was a grand prize winner of the contest, and I had a great experience with it. Immediately after winning, I was read by various managers and production companies, and even though a few years have passed, Script Pipeline still sends me writing opportunities and shares my work with production companies. Plus, I also received other goodies such as writing software and a subscription to their Writers Database. It looks like recent winners will receive those same benefits, but now the grand prize is huge--$20,000! Also, I recommend their coverage service, which costs extra but is worth it. I find their readers to be very insightful.http://www.scriptpipeline.com/home

5. TrackingB: TrackingB is a relatively new screenplay contest (it was started in 2007). Although its entry fee is high ($75-$125) and there is no prize money, its batting average for the success of its winners is incredible and it has a good reputation amongst writers. For instance, my friend was a finalist for TrackingB, and although she had placed in other contests, it was TrackingB that led to her getting signed by a major Hollywood management company. The other benefit to entering this contest is that if you enter two scripts or more, they give you free access to the trackingb.com website for one year. If you’re not too familiar with the site, it provides Hollywood job listings, script sales, industry news, and other information you would probably not know unless you worked in the industry.http://www.trackingb.com/?page_id=861

6. Page International Screenplay Awards: The grand prize is $25,000. Enough said. http://pageawards.com/the-contest/

7. Final Draft’s Big Break Screenplay Contest: The Feature Grand Prize is $15,000 plus a ton of swag, which includes a fancy awards ceremony, an Ipad, and script coverage. http://www.finaldraft.com/products/big-break-contest#winners

8. Scriptapalooza: The first place winner gets $10,000, and each script is read by either a production company, manager, or agent. http://www.scriptapalooza.com/home.php

3 Books Every Aspiring Sports Journalist Should Read

Joseph Nardone, the Managing Editor of Storm the Paint, shares his list of 3 Books Every Aspiring Journalist Should Read. If you'd like to connect with him, you can find him on Twitter @JosephNardone

Anything and everything written by Dan Wetzel
 "If you are a person who follows sports you know who Wetzel is. If you don't you are doing it wrong. He is probably one of (if not) the best sports writers of our generation and has some really good work out there. His ability to put his content ahead of him is rare in the age of "look at me" sports writing."

Sports Journalism at its Best: Pulitzer Prize-Winning Articles, Cartoons, and Photographs by Heinz-Dietrich Fischer 
"Great sports related content in the book. It's a good way to see how sports used to be covered. It's just done in a different way today, but some of the articles in the book romanticize sports to the point you would want to date an inanimate object."

Drunk on Sports by Tim Cowlishaw 
"A lot of folks only know of Tim as the guy from ESPN's Around The Horn, but he has been around and in the newspaper business for a few decades now. This book has as much to do with Tim's struggles with the bottle as it does with his writing career. It rang a bell with me and it might do the same for folks who don't realize how much work and shenanigans are involved in this kind of career." 

This post was originally published on October 16, 2013. 

Everyone wants to be successful until they see what it actually takes


Five important questions to ask yourself before you self-publish

In 2012, I independently published my novel Hell's Game through Createspace; and it became an Amazon bestseller. I credit various factors in my success, and one thing I tell other writers who think about self-publishing is to think about whether or not it is really the best option for them. I created this list of questions I asked myself before I proceeded with Hell's Game and my subsequent books: The Red Lantern Scandals, Exercise with Cats, and Tree Dreams in Color. 

FIVE QUESTIONS TO ASK YOURSELF BEFORE YOU SELF PUBLISH
  1. Have I exhausted all avenues of trying to get traditionally published? This includes query letters, writer conferences, and asking people for referrals.
  2. Is this material at its best? Am I 100% sure that there is nothing I could do to improve the book's plot, characters, or other story elements? 
  3. Is this material fully edited? Is it free of typos and grammatical mistakes?
  4. Do I have the time and/or money to invest in producing the best product? (A book free of mistakes and formatted well with an eye catching cover.)
  5. Do I have the time and/or money to market this product?
If you are considering self-publishing; and you answered "no" to any of these questions, then you should not self-publish until you are ready. After all, your books are your products, and you do not want to sell inferior products. You may get initial sales but people won't come back.

Agree? Disagree? Want to know more? Leave me a blog comment or check me out on Facebook or Twitter and send me your questions.

Discovering Madonna's Erotica, a reflection 20 years later

Madonna released the new album Rebel Heart this year, and in honor of the Material Girl, I'm reprinting Lizette Clarke's guest column, originally published on this blog in 2012. 

I bought Madonna’s Erotica album (on cassette!) during Memorial Day weekend back in 1997. With less than a month of one of the hardest school years of my life to go—seventh grade—I already knew that I had become a completely different person in the past year. I was attending a suburban school that was predominantly black, and already knew that I was deemed too weird and felt unwelcomed by the majority of my peers. What made that late spring so important in my life was the fact that by that point, I no longer gave a shit what others thought about me. I was weird, I was artistic, and I was becoming a woman. 

We stopped at Coconuts Music on Hempstead Turnpike en route to a family barbecue at my relatives’ new house in Jamaica, Queens. I remember exactly what I wore: a glittery, tan colored t-shirt with a turtleneck collar, and denim overalls from the Gap. I liked this top because it was tight enough to suggest that I had boobs (which I did not have), and there’s also a good chance my shoes that day were Jellies
from Payless Shoe Source. This Memorial Day was also one of the first times a boy hit on me. Some random wannabe thug rode his bike up to mine and asked me what my name was. I immediately deferred to one of my two go-to fake names: “Valleri” or “Maria.” I don’t recall the rest of the conversation, but I do remember it being one of the last of its kind. Shortly hereafter, I went to great pains to go unseen by anyone riding a bike in Queens.

But anyway, the album. The album. The second I got home, I put it in my Philco boom box and read the lyrics to each song as I played them for the first time. Already five years old by 1997, the sound of Erotica ranged from New Jack Swing to house music to jazz, with the occasional pop ballad or reggae track thrown in for good measure. One eye-opening aspect of the tape—in addition to its subject matter—was that Madonna merely spoke the lyrics on some of the tracks. She also said bitch! And ass! That shit was out of this world to 13-year Old Me.

Relatively unbeknownst to me at the time, this album received a lot of backlash when it first came out in October of 1992. Released concurrently with Madonna’s Sex book—which I couldn’t get my hands on back then, even if I’d tried—many critics and pearl-clutchers believed Madonna had gone too far. It was instantly regarded as an album about sex and nothing more, when in actuality it was mainly about all the bullshit that surrounds sex: relationships, betrayals, loss, and acceptance. More than anything, Erotica is an album about the pain that comes with the territory of being a sexual creature.

And it’s so obvious to me now! Madonna tells us at the end of the title track:

“Only the one who hurts you/Can make you feel better/Only the one who inflicts the pain/Can take it away.”

As far as my junior high reading comprehension skills went, shit was literal. Like, if you’re doing S&M stuff, the person pouring hot candle wax on you is the only one who can stop pouring hot candle wax on you. Duh, right? But I’m pretty sure she’s not talking about S&M or even sex there. As a 28-year old now, I read this song as an ode to ourselves, not an ode to BDSM: if we fixate on pain from the past, only we can stop inflicting it on ourselves. Sure, I earned two writing degrees in the last fifteen years, so I could be reading too much into it today, but one of the album’s stand out songs, “Rain,” hammers home a message of renewal and redemption, of overcoming your own personal darkness and letting yourself be loved. Considering sex and all its surrounding emotions, maybe I’m not being (that much of) an English major blowhard when I surmise the album’s overall message: let it go.

With a few exceptions, Madonna isn’t talking about sex at all in Erotica. One of my favorite tracks when I was thirteen is the shortest on the album, dance track “Bye Bye Baby.” With the help of auto tune (or whatever the hell its 1992 equivalent was), Madonna sassily tells an ex-lover that she’s so over it and to get the fuck out. Man, I loved the shit out of that song. It was bratty, it was catchy, and it boasted what I considered to be the ultimate in lyrical depth at the time:

“I don’t want to keep the burning flame/Of your ego going/So I’ll just stop blowing in the wind/To love you is a sin.”

So deep, right? When you’re thirteen.

In “Why’s It So Hard,” Madonna ponders why people can’t just get along. Seriously; that’s the whole song. “Thief of Hearts” is about a man-stealing, two-faced friend who will screw anything, and “Words” is literally about, well, words: their ability to harm, their ability to skewer reality, and everything else you started noticing when you were in junior high and emotions were running high.

Does any of this have anything to do with fucking? Barely.

The darker side of sex is present on my favorite track on the album, “Bad Girl,” which still may be my favorite, nostalgia notwithstanding. Why did a song about a protagonist who drinks whenever she’s alone and sleep around only to hate herself afterward appeal to me so much as a junior high schooler? It certainly wasn't my life at the time. Honestly, I think I just loved the melody and the music (my eventual forays into Boys for Pele and foreign music would later prove that lyrics are rarely a priority to my ears). Listening to “Bad Girl” in the present, however, I can truly relate to the lyrics, and I also realize what a painful fucking song it is. “Bad Girl” could be an anthem for sexual addiction. It’s probably no coincidence that most of my fictional characters could sing its lyrics and mean every word.

The one song on this album that’s explicitly sexual—and the only one that inspired me to take the album’s booklet to school the next day to show around to fellow young pervs—is “Where Life Begins.” This is the type of song for which seventh-graders live. If you can figure out what the metaphors and innuendo are referring to, you feel like a fucking adult. Because you get it. In this song, Madonna invites the listener to partake in cunnilingus. Her arguments are well-reasoned, but not terribly clever, for example:

“You can eat all you want and you don’t get fat.”

“Colonel Sanders says it best: finger licking good.”

Well, shit. The first time I listened to this jazzy number, I was like, “Why the fuck is Madonna singing about some restaurant in a basement?” When it finally did dawn on me, I assure you I was forever changed. I was all, people sing about this stuff? Girls sing about this stuff? I’m not a weirdo for thinking about this stuff? Right on! Right on, Madonna.

Erotica became crucial in my development not only as a woman, but as a writer. My propensity for creating female characters who would also totally listen to stuff like this got its stamp of approval from this track, from this album, from Madonna herself. She was telling me to go for it.

And I’m pretty sure that’s why this album holds such a special place in my heart. Honestly, I don’t know if I could recommend Erotica to any adult to hear for the first time in 2012. I think you have to be a thirteen-year old girl to truly appreciate it. Twenty Eight-year Old Me finds the lyrics silly and infantile now, but maybe that’s the point. Maybe this is a teenager’s album, even if Madonna was well into her thirties when it was made. Instead of reading Sweet Valley High novels or whatever the hell young girls were supposed to learn their earliest life lessons from, I was listening to Madonna. And Alanis. And Tori Amos. Is it any wonder I went through the balance of my teens and most of my twenties as a bawdy, cynical, foul-mouthed, open-minded (for lack of a better word) artist?

That’s not to say that I was a mature thirteen-year old by any means. Far from it. Only that this album taught me what to expect out of sex, relationships, and adulthood: expect the pain, expect the bullshit, and expect the ephemeral beauty of having your eyes opened to something new for the first time.

Happy 20th anniversary to a bold, raw, honest body of work. Without discovering Erotica in my formative, early teen years, I would not have learned the significance of exploring the darker, dirtier parts of our minds. I probably never would have had the courage to do it on my own. I’d probably be a different person, and I probably wouldn’t be much of a writer. 

Lizette Clarke is a writer based in Los Angeles. She has a M.F.A. in Screenwriting from the University of Southern California, and she was a 2009 CBS/NAACP Writing Fellow.