Afterword How to Survive the Writing Game

"Henceforth I ask not good fortune. I myself am good fortune."

—Walt Whitman

For those of you who have completed your screenplay and want to pursue selling it, the following information is for you. I have written this to make your journey a realistic one. And also to give you some valuable tips to help you stay on the right career track.

At the Writer's Center, I teach writers techniques for developing a writer's survival kit which includes, career strategies, communication skills, how to present yourself, how to network, how to get recognition, and how to get people to listen to your ideas. These writers are often amazed at how little they know about the business aspect of the writing business. Because most writers have to sell themselves, as well as their writing, they are at a definite advantage over the competition, if they know techniques to help them succeed in the writing game.

In the new millennium it's more difficult than ever to be a screenwriter because of all the competition and diminishing sources. Doing business is tough and only the competitive and resourceful writers will survive. Production companies, networks and movie studios are now divisions of conglomerates, where more executives are interested in the bottom line rather than in the creative line.

Even if it isn't bought by a network or studio to be made into a film, don't despair. Many writers have gotten assignments to write other projects after executives have read their screenplays and were impressed with the writer's writing ability. No one will hire you if you don't have a sample of your writing to show. All the people involved in the financial end of a project must be assured you know how to start, structure, and complete your work. They only get this assurance by seeing your ability to lay out the story's structure, create exciting characters, motivate them, write fresh dialogue and have a working knowledge of plotting a story from the beginning to the climax.

Once in a while, you might be lucky enough to get a director, producer or star interested in your script. If they like it, they could take it to the networks as a package deal. This means your screenplay would have a major star or director or production company attached as part of a package, and makes it more attractive to those in charge. This is especially true if the star, producer or director involved has a lot of commercial popularity.

When you enter the world of business—and this is the writing business—it's always good to have some hard evidence of who you sent your project to and when you sent it. So begin to keep records of each submission, who you submitted it to and the date. This is in case your work gets lost and also to give you a time-frame for making a follow-up call to see the status of your work.

In the worse case scenario your correspondence could serve as a paper trail, if you ever felt your work was plagiarized or used without your permission. In no other business does an individual have to put him or herself on the line more than a writer. Every time he or she pitches an idea, writes a screenplay, produces a project, sends a query letter or meets with a producer, he or she's in a vulnerable position. And nobody is less qualified to do business than writers. Why? Because writers spend most of their time mastering their craft and none of their time learning how to sell.

You study, go to workshops, perfect your craft and when you finally write your greatest screenplay to the best of your ability, pouring your heart and soul into the writing, you're completely unprepared for the next step of the writing game: You have to market yourself in an over-crowded marketplace, where the supply of talent greatly exceeds the demand. You soon discover paying one's dues isn't enough and that you have to deal with people who make decisions about your writing and future, not based on the merit of the writing itself, but on many other variables. Yet, a single "yea" or "nay" can break a career or break a heart.

Over the past decade of witnessing the devastating effects of this business, I realized there were few resources available for those who must constantly go into the marketplace, unprepared both in the business techniques and marketing skills it takes to sell their writing. And the fall-out of this constant "putting oneself on the line" creates self-doubt and low self-esteem.

There is a plethora of writers who have written wonderful books, scripts and screenplays who have felt that completing the writing was enough. But in truth it's the ability to market and sell their writing that allows them to survive the writing game. Producing a portfolio of your scripts is great, but it's only the first step.

You have to have a plan and a blueprint for selling your screenplay. You want to learn who the decision makers are and how to reach them, rather than dealing with entry-level employees in the organizations. Many beginning writers think all they have to do is finish writing and it will be sold. Some never realize the writing process is really comprised of not only writing the script but includes selling the script, if that's your goal.

You have to be adept in both areas to be successful and to become a person who can convince other people what a terrific writer you are. You have to sell agents, producers, managers, network executives on your idea and on you. You hate to sell? Well, wait a minute—you're selling all the time, wherever you go, whoever you meet, whatever you say. Remember, you are always selling yourself, whether you're conscious about doing so or not.

What do you say about yourself before you say anything? What self-image do you want to create when you go about selling your script? Become aware of your clothing, your posture, your facial ex pression, your gestures, your hair, your eye contact, your handshake. You can plan in advance what image you wish to project. Projecting a positive self-image will help to sell your screenplay. Your script can be the most wonderful masterpiece in the world, but if you present a negative self-image as a writer you won't sell anything. You don't get a second chance to make a first impression. Make yours an unforgettable one.

I have worked with many talented writers who never were able to sell their writing. Not because they didn't know how to write, but because they didn't know how to speak! You have to make it easy for people to want to listen to you. Preparation is the answer to getting listened to. Do you have enthusiasm in your voice, are you excited about what you're saying? Are you credible in what you say and how you say it? Do you speak in a monotone, in a whisper, so fast nobody can understand you?

When you present your idea don't apologize, hesitate, become embarrassed. Speak in a strong voice, using direct eye contact and emote in a clear and confident manner. When you have to talk to an agent or producer on the telephone, it's often good to write out the script of what you want to say and practice it until you can speak like you believe what you're saying.

Have you mastered your three-sentence pitch? What is your first sentence, your second sentence, your third? Write the sentences down and study your pitch. Have you grabbed your listener's interest and attention? Does it sound interesting and focused?

Practice your pitch into a tape recorder before you have a meeting. Anticipate any questions or objections in advance, so you can have prepared answers. Think of what kind of resistance you might encounter when you present your work and figure out how to overcome the resistance of others without becoming defensive. Remember, you're a professional writer and you need to create the image of one.

When you're pitching your script and an executive makes suggestions or starts changing the focus of your screenplay—let them! You want to get the person you're pitching to, excited and involved in your script. So let them give you any suggestions, listen to their ideas and keep quiet when they talk. Don't say, "I don't like your suggestions," or "That's not what I meant."

People in decision-making positions, like to think their ideas are great, so don't tell them anything different until they're sold on your script! Unfortunately, I have seen many mediocre writers sell their screenplays, while more talented writers don't. This is unfair, but so is life. Many writers have sold merely on the merits of their self-presentation and their ability to sell and not on their ability to write.

Self-esteem is the key to success or failure in anything you do. So many writers suffer from feelings of inadequacy and believing that they aren't enough, especially when it comes to selling themselves. Self-esteem is based on what you think and feel about yourself and not what someone else thinks and feels about you! You must have self-esteem, not only to keep you motivated when you're writing, but especially when you start selling your screenplay. If you don't, the first rejection will put you into a tailspin and you'll come crashing down to the lower depths.

When you submit your writing you first need a plan. Do your research into the companies you want to send your script to. If you've written a science fiction script and the production company or movie studio makes nothing but action adventures, forget it, you don't stand a chance. If you've written a romantic comedy, don't send your script to a producer who only makes horror films. Study the market before you make your submissions. Target your script to the right studio, network or production company.

If you get a rejection, don't take it personally! The last thing you should do is base your self-esteem with getting rejected or accepted. All this means is your product is not what the company is buying. Just look at it as you're not selling what they want to buy. File the rejection away, while you put another script into the mail. Many successful screenwriters never sold their first script until after they sold their second or third scripts.

Don't sit around and wait for the phone to ring or the mail to come. Keep busy! Have interests and a life outside of writing. Live your life as fully as you can while waiting for an answer. The best thing to do is start another project and keep writing during this waiting period. Besides, you do need a body of work and now is the time to be productive. If you can afford it now would be a good time to get away and germinate some new ideas for your next script. Nothing is better for your creative spirit then to be relaxed, unstressed and out of the pressure cooker. So go get some needed R & R.

In some of the previous chapters I stressed the importance to write from your heart and write from your life experiences. Now, that you're wanting to sell your screenplay you must do the opposite. Now, is the time to emotionally remove yourself and your personal attachment to the writing and treat it as a product you're trying to sell. I know this is easier said than done, but it's necessary. Look at your screenplay with an objective writer's eye and remove yourself emotionally from the writing. Sure you're going to feel depressed if you're rejected, but you can't let it get you down.

Your motivation to sell your script must be internal and come from you. Your desire to produce and sell your writing must be your goal and not one you're wanting for someone else. Your writing ability can't be dependent on whether someone in BCA Company rejected your script or not.

Always have your script out there. Continue to send it out no matter what happens. If you haven't heard after a reasonable amount of time, follow up with a phone call or a personal letter. Many times I have had to call or write a letter to find out the status of my script after I had sent it out to production companies, studios and agents.

Your script is not the only one they are concerned about, but it certainly is the only one you're interested in. It's up to you to follow up if you don't know what's the status. Even if your writing is rejected by everyone you've sent it to, find more places to send it to. Failure is not in being rejected. Failure is giving up trying. And who's to say that your next submission won't be the one that's bought!

In the writing game, you must have an unswerving belief in yourself and in your work. On the other hand you also must be flexible enough to make changes in your script when they're warranted. Don't wear blinders and let your ego take over your better judgment. If you hear the same criticism over and over again listen to it and do the necessary rewriting. If you're not certain what to do, consult with a script consultant like myself or others. When you feel your screenplay is absolutely the best it will ever be, then is the time to stick to your guns and be firm.

I remember when I wrote my first non-fiction book and I got a call from an agent in New York who wanted to represent me. She started telling me what changes she wanted me to make in the manuscript. Because she was my first agent, I was ready to rewrite the entire book. Lucky for me, I spoke with an experienced writer who told me, "Don't make any changes for this agent, until she finds a publisher who wants you to sign a contract, then tell her you'll be happy to make any changes they want."

At first I was afraid to take her advice, but I eventually did. And you know what, the agent took me on as a client without my changing a single word. On the other hand, I have also made changes when I felt an agent's or producer's notes were absolutely right. So use your intuition, your good judgment and your faith in yourself and let your common sense tell you what to do when the situation presents itself.

And above all, don't lose confidence or belief in yourself and your writing, especially if you feel you've given it your all. Look at the criticism not from your ego but with a professional writer's eyes and objectivity. Be professional enough to let go of things that don't work and change your material even if it means rewriting the entire script. But remember at some point you must believe in your work, no matter what! If you don't, you'll constantly be affected by every rejection, until you'll find yourself unable to write.

The writing game is difficult enough to play and if you want to win, don't sabotage yourself. In other words "Don't stab yourself in the back." Take good care of yourself, eat properly, exercise, have friends and interests and have a life besides writing.

Take a course in marketing or selling. If you get too depressed and it affects your entire life when your script gets rejected, seek help from a professional therapist. In any situation where you are the creator of your product it is very difficult to sustain your motivation, if you're always feeling depressed and hopeless.

Wishing, hoping, praying or just working hard isn't enough to gain you the professional recognition you want. First you must decide what you want to write and then target the studios or networks. Next, create a plan to reach your goals, whatever they are. Don't wait for others to do it for you and that includes even those of you who have an agent. It's ultimately up to you to get what you want for yourself.

How can you sell me on you and your writing abilities, if you're embarrassed to tell me all the good things about yourself? Create a "brag sheet" listing all your attributes as a writer and as a person. List everything you've written, your credits, your resume—all the projects you want to write. Read your brag sheet over every day and every night, until you start believing you have credibility.

Do you hear an inner voice saying, "It's not nice to brag." Well, don't listen to that voice anymore! And what's the matter with saying good things about yourself to other people. You sure don't have a problem saying negative things, do you?

People believe what you say about yourself, so start listening to all of the negative things you tell everyone. Change the things you say to positives. Just for practice, team up with another writer and spend five minutes telling him what a terrific writer you are and how excited you are about your latest writing project. How did you do? That wasn't too hard was it? How did you feel saying nice things about yourself? My guess is it wasn't easy for you to do.

But practice makes perfect. Ask your friend to give you honest feedback on how convincing you sounded. Work on improving those things you need to improve. Practice makes perfect and that goes for saying good things about yourself. So get in the practice of answering with a positive response when someone says, "Hi, how are you doing?"

"Great, I'm so excited about the script I just finished. I can't wait to get it out there."

This will create a positive reaction in other people about you and your work and the next time they see you they'll remember that you're doing good work. People want to associate with winners, not losers. And in the writing game, you certainly want to present yourself as a winner, even if you've never sold anything. How can anyone have the confidence to put large sums of money into your project if you don't believe in it? They can't. So it's time to now start creating a winning image of yourself as a writer.

This leads me to one of the most pervasive problems writers have. Answer this question. "Do you take yourself seriously as a writer?" Think about it before you answer. Are you able to introduce yourself as a writer? If you aren't, why not? Are you able to think of yourself as a writer? If not, why?

Your winning attitude all begins with you. Now is the time for you to take yourself seriously as a writer! Once again, if you don't, I certainly won't and neither will the agents or producers, or network and studio executives to whom you're trying to sell your script.

Successful writers don't live in fear and aren't afraid of making mistakes and taking risks after their work is rejected. When their writing is rejected they still stay committed to their writing until they find people who will like their work. They remain passionate about their writing and don't give up. Why is it we always put ourselves down for being rejected by our negative self-talk, instead of praising ourselves after taking a risk over and over and over again, by constantly and consistently sending our work out. Just think how you would treat another writer if he or she got rejected. Would you tell him or her something along the lines of:

"Don't put yourself down." "It's the work that got rejected, not you." "Dr. Seuss was rejected over 56 times before his first book was published." "They don't know good writing when they see it."

But is this what you say to yourself? I'm sure that you aren't that kind or gentle to yourself. Well, now is the time to nurture yourself just like you nurture other people. You need to recognize how much negative programming you have and deliberately counteract it when you are rejected. Write down positive affirmations about yourself and your work and read them over, especially when you get rejected.

As I said earlier, your motivation for continuing to write can't come from other people, it must come from inside you. Now is the time to get back to your reasons for wanting to be a writer in the first place and don't let anyone or any outside circumstances take you away from your goal. Without that internal belief and trust in yourself and your work, you'll never make it as a writer. You must continue to send your product out week after week without giving up or getting down.

Everyone gets rejected and having a community of writers to talk to and pour your heart out to is essential. Find other writers to meet with and develop a support system or network of writers, especially when dealing with marketing and rejection. Writers need all the support they can get and in my Writer's Support Groups we give emotional support, career support, and craft support. We deal with writers' personal and professional issues such as writer's block, dealing with rejection, overcoming procrastination.

I coach writers on how to play the writing game, giving them techniques and strategies on how to speak and act on interviews, at pitch meetings, and on the telephone. These skills are especially important for those writers who work in the entertainment industry and constantly have to pitch their ideas. There is no other industry which is as dysfunctional as the entertainment industry. I've seen talented writers with fabulous scripts get rejected and writers who couldn't write be given hundreds of thousands of dollars for their script, then have the studios hire other writers to write it.

By now you have learned how to successfully play the writing game by the rules. And speaking of rules, I have found that sometimes ignorance is bliss. For example, a couple of years ago, two writers from another state, came to Los Angeles to consult with me on their script. They came a day early so they could visit agents and since they didn't know the rules, they found the addresses of the agents who they wanted to represent them. They didn't call but went directly to their offices and said they wanted to meet with the agent. And do you know what? They got one. Of course, it was on the merits of their script, but on the other hand, if they knew the rules they would have NEVER barged into agents offices without an appointment or a personal referral.

So after you know the rules, you sometimes need to break them. What better way to get an appointment or meeting with a producer, an agent or a studio executive, then to be creatively outrageous or unique in your approach. Let your imagination soar and find original ways to become visible.

In the writing game, criticism seems to be easier to give than praise and everyone is a Monday morning quarter-back. People in the entertainment industry are constantly telling writers what's not working in their script. The balance between criticism and writing is difficult for many to maintain. This is because you're allowing yourself to be affected by the whims and wiles of other people, who often make their decisions, not on the merits of your script, but on their own subjectivity, their own ego needs, and their own insecurities.

Unfortunately, some people who give advice (solicited or not) and who are in the position to okay a project often have little or no knowledge of craft. In fact some people keep their jobs, especially in the entertainment industry by always saying "no," since it seems to be safer than putting oneself on the line and having the script turn on to be a flop or a financial disaster like Howard the Duck.

Recently, a writer asked me what he should do with his agent from a reputable agency, who liked a screenplay he wrote and decided to represent him. But his calls weren't returned, and the agent's secretary always had excuses for her boss (he was on the phone, in a meeting, out to lunch, out of town, out of the office, etc.). He asked for his script back and after having it one year, he discovered the agent only sent it out to five production companies.

"I was so frustrated, when I discovered it was only sent to five people in a year," he said. "Now, I have to start the process of getting an agent, all over again."

Like this young man, many people don't know what to expect from their agent, since most are just thrilled to get one in the first place. As in any business, you have to know the individual your dealing with and in the writing business, you have to learn what works best with your particular agent and what doesn't. Did you notice I used the word "business?" That's because getting an agent and dealing with one is a business and it's important for you to approach it as such.

Try to form a partnership with your agent and to develop a rapport. Get to know your agent's taste, so he or she will be excited with your work, because if your agent doesn't believe in your script, chances are it won't be sold.

Although it's difficult to get an agent, in truth, after you sign the contract, an agent works for you and is your employee. Sound strange? You probably can't even think in those terms, for in reality, you, like other writers, are thrilled to get an agent. It all goes back to the law of supply and demand and in this business, the demand for agents far exceeds the supply.

Let me tell you a few strategies I suggested to writers in dealing with their agents. First, rather than being afraid to call or just sitting back and waiting for something to happen, we worked out a specific plan for them to be active in their own career. Rather than calling with a "I hope I'm not being a pest," attitude or "Have you heard from anyone, yet?" they called with specific information to help their agent like, "I ran into Bob Jones over at the studio and he'd like you to send over my script."

This change of attitude helped them form a better relationship with their agent. The writers began to feel more in control of their career and the agent began to have more respect for them. Recently, I invited an agent to speak at the Writer's Center. She made some wonderful points that I would like to share with you.

She told the group she had only so much time during the course of the day, and had to spread it out among a lot of writers. She asked the following question: "If I work with over fifty clients, and I'm trying to sell each one's work in only so much time, the question is:

'Who do you think your career is more important to—you or me ?'

Do you get the message? It's up to you to do as much work as you can, to help your agent sell you and your writing. That means you must be active in trying to meet people in the business, you need to network (whether you like to or not) and you need to tell people what a terrific writer you are. You never know if the person next to you in line at the bank, couldn't be someone looking for a script!

This agent went on to say she likes a client who is prolific and keeps writing new projects no matter what! If your last screenplay was rejected, don't give up, but keep on creating new product. Most agents like clients who bring them new sample screenplays or television movies. They don't want you to just sit back and wait for that one script to sell. Agents want clients to have a body of work in which to show off their talent and the more product they have to sell the easier their job.

If you feel your relationship with your agent is like a bad marriage, get out. Don't waste your time and energy trying to make it better, because it probably won't be. Lastly, agents like to deal with writers who are enthusiastic and confident about themselves and their work. It makes the selling of both, much easier, when a client can be personable and successfully handle a pitch meeting after the agent sets one up.

As in any relationship, you must have give and take and most of all mutual respect. This means you should be able to sit down with your agent and help in planning strategies to sell your work and to further your writing career. Your relationship with your agent should be a partnership, with both of you having the same goal—your writing success.

By taking an active part in your career, being responsible for making new contacts, developing new writing products, and believing in yourself and your writing, you will help your agent achieve success for you and your career. You will than be a major player who will win the writing game!

So stick with your game plan and do the best writing you know how, have your personal vision and truth, and reach inside to put yourself into your script. One day someone will recognize your ability and talent, but in the meantime you need to keep writing, keep sending your work out and keep your writing goals in mind. You'll win the writing game if you're willing to improve your skills and master your craft, learn how to market yourself from the inside out, and above all be persistent. Just keep on writing no matter what and you'll not only survive, but you'll thrive in playing the writing game.

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