I am going to answer your questions out of order to make it easier on my train of thought
Hope you don't mind
What is the best way to keep track of upcoming contests?
If you mean contest as in online AND convention types, just use your a-m-v.org account to it's highest potential. Go to your user profile (on the main site) and click contests. They are sorted by date and there is a large variety. Once you get into the game for about a year you'll know what is coming just by watching what people are chatting about here in the forums. Yes, the forums actually are used for talking about amvs .....sometimes
What contests are the best to enter?
For conventions, it's best to only enter ones you can attend. It gives you an opportunity to see your work on the big screen and get a public reaction to it. Some conventions also prefer only people who can attend to enter them. Obviously, online contests are excluded from this rule
In addition to being a nerve racking ego boosting experience to see your amv play on the BIG screen
you may win some award and of course you will want to be there if that happens.
Could anyone give me just the basics for the contest scene?
The best thing is to follow the con rules first and foremost. They will tell you what file types, content and lengths they will accept. Some cons have rules about sexual, excessive violence, or cursing. This can get a perfectly good amv excluded, but if the riules aren't followed, the creator only has theirselves to blame. Rules have been known to change after submission...but it's rare.
The other thing is to think about originality. If you want your video to stand out, try to do something you either haven't seen done or something you really feel you want to make. You can try and make videos aimed to win, but most of the time those types of videos turn out badly. It's best to make something because you want to make it...the video wil turn out the better for it. In fact, making something orginal opposed to a sell out make sit more likely you may win something in the end
People appreciate it, believe me.
I don't know if anyone will accept my vids either, i just do them in huffyuv and then convert them to mpg using tmpgenc with normal settings.
Again, contests often have preferred file types. A lot of larger cons prefer MPEG-2 with a specified resolution. You may find you need to render several sizes and ratios if you really want to submit.
As for creative advice...I can't really give you any. Just make what you want to no matter what anyone else thinks about it. There are a lot of eva, dbz, and trigun amvs out there for example but everything hasn't been done either. People DO like to see new anime and hear new songs though...but make it for yourself first
If you like it, chances are other people will to ^_^