Writers on the Verge: What Are You Going to Do for Yourself?

Every so often, I meet a writer who brazenly asks me: So? What are you going to do for me? Are you going to get me an agent? A manager? Are you going to make my career happen and get my script out there? Turns out that my colleagues in representation eat these sorts of questions at least once a week. When I tell writers that I am a coach, part of the support team, here to help advise and illuminate their path, some writers press: I’ll pay you if you get me an agent. I’ll pay you if you get me a manager. It’s only the new writer, no matter how young or old but ones who have not thus far penetrated the industry and are therefore not familiar with its unique terrain, who dare ask these questions, or push it when they don’t get the answer they think will help them “get there’.

Hard-workThere is one truth that you learn early on in the industry, and you learn it fast: This is a highly social industry, operating inside a small, small world. Everyone knows what you did and did not do for yourself. Where you cut those corners. What you tried to get away with. Where you might have failed. It’s therefore important to know that while introductions are perfectly valid ways to get yourself out there, having somebody else do all the work for you, unless they are your agent, lawyer or manager, is a big red flag for representation considering bringing you on to their roster.

Let’s be clear about one thing, before we go any further: The only “thing” on the merit of which it’s okay to get out there is your work. Someone likes your script and because of it wants to introduce you to someone else? Great.  A junior read and responded to your work? Fantastic. They will pass it on to their boss, to their friends. You can’t buy these sorts of relationship builders. They occur organically, in the case of great scripts, often combined with strong credentials. People in this industry can recognize enthusiasm and, more importantly, good work, from a mile away. Once you have that, it will do half the work for you itself.

While everyone wants an agent or manager to work hard and earn their 10%, agents and managers want to know that you, their potential client, will have to motivation and resources to do some of the leg work yourself. Once represented, you will be expected to network, to meet new people, to create new avenues for yourself and for your work. Managers expect and look forward to that call: “I went to an event last night, I met so-and-so, they asked you send them my screenplay.” You do that, and you will have representation eating from the palm of your hand. Finding somebody else to do it for you prior to representation will only indicate to those in the know that you are less than capable, confident or apt.

Sure, it’s easy to want somebody else to do it on your behalf. To put themselves in those uncomfortable situation, to work their virtual Rolodexes into a frenzy as they get your name, your voice and your work out there. But as a smart agent once told me, reps earn 10% of the money, so they should only be expected to do 10% of the work. In today’s industry climate, selling a screenplay or building a screenwriting career does not amount to anywhere near 10%. It is a lot more like 35-45%, and that’s when the industry is having a good day.

For agents and managers alike, watching somebody else do all the hard work on your behalf only means that you’re going to be abstain from those all important networking events available out there. These days, representation rely on their client not only for the contents, but also for the resource that they possess. Sure, if you have the million dollar idea they will take it and run with it as far and fast as they can. But to build your career they will want to work with you, the person, for many years to come. And it’s up to you to compel them to believe in what you can do for yourself, which inevitably includes your ability to effectively network.

So get yourself out there. Meet the right people. Create valuable opportunities for yourself. Network. Buy people who are one or five steps ahead of you a cup of coffee. Ask some questions. Learn what you can from them. If they like you and believe you are genuine and ready to put in the hard work, they will inevitably want to help. Read your script. Give you feedback. Help you get it in the right hands.

This is the foundation that every writer should create for themselves. Don’t ask anyone: What are you going to do for me? At best, you will find yourself a strong partnership. At worse, and if you alienated others around you, you will find yourself doing a significant amount by yourself. Trust that your representation will do all they need to earn their 10%. Compell others to work with you, don’t keep worrying about what they will do for you. They know their role, and will do their job great. Instead, focus your time and your energy on what you’re going to do for yourself. Not only will it serve to build a foundation that may just become a career some day, it will build you the reputation that will be talked about in positive ways in this small, social world.

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One thought on “Writers on the Verge: What Are You Going to Do for Yourself?

  1. Michelle

    Thank you for the article, Lee. It gives me faith that hard work (and a smile and handshake!) will help me most in my journey. Not all the complicated stuff, which can be stressful to figure out, let alone navigate.

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