I've been banging on about this, as you might have noticed, and my comments were noticed by screen-writer and coach, Adrian Mead. Actually, we'd met each other at a conference where we were both speaking a while ago, and had both meant to get in touch, but Adrian beat me to it. So, I asked him to write something for you. He had two suggestions, which I decided would make two separate guest posts, and he kindly agreed.
Today's post is about treating your writing life like a business. When I'd been in Adrian's event, he'd begun by testing the audience with some questions about their business-skills - he mentions it in his article below - and I'm and relieved to say that I was in the last group standing!
Later, I'm getting Adrian back to talk about screen-writing opportunities for writers.
Let me tell you about him. He formerly worked as a night club bouncer and a hairdresser before stumbling upon the world of film and Television. He has since directed six short films and has developed a career as a writer of television drama. His credits include ITV's "The Last Detective", "Blue Dove", "Where The Heart Is", BBC's "Paradise Heights","The Eustace Brothers", "Waking The Dead".
In 2005 Adrian wrote and directed his first feature film "Night People", winner of the BAFTA Scotland and Cineworld Audience Award and also nominated for Best screenplay. Screenings at numerous international festivals followed with a UK theatrical release in 2006/7. He is currently developing a number of Film and TV projects with UK and International production companies and broadcasters.
His book Making It As A Screenwriter launched in September 2008 and was hailed by leading industry professionals as the definitive career guide for aspiring screenwriters. "Every aspiring writer should be forced to read this, at gunpoint." - James Moran, Screenwriter: Severance, Doctor Who, Torchwood, Spooks Code 9, Crusoe. Adrian is represented by Cathy King at Independent Talent Group (formerly known as ICM London)
The following article isn't meant to be a downer, quite the opposite in fact. I hope to offer some very practical steps to help you achieve your dream of making a living as a writer. If you don't need the money and are writing purely for the joy of it, look away now. This article is definitely not for you. If you want money read on.
I make my living as a writer and director of film and TV and love my job. I have to be able to deal with constant rejections, deliver to strict deadlines, cope with numerous rewrites and still keep smiling. That's why it pays very well. I had no formal training and no connections to the industry when I started out. What I did have was a plan which enabled me to change career. I went from from bouncer and hairdresser, yes I know, very odd combination, to award winning writer and director.
As a result of my unusual route into the business I often get asked to speak to novelists and screenwriters. I don't teach them how to write, I teach them how to get a job and I've worked with hundreds of aspiring writers who claim they are passionate about pursuing their dream.
It usually takes less than two minutes for them to prove to me they are doomed to fail.
How can I say this with such certainty? Well, at most events where say 100 aspiring writers are gathered, I get them to stand up whilst I test their career strategy. Let's try it. Imagine you are stood with the audience. If you answer no to any question you sit down. Ready?
Remain standing if...
a) You believe you have the talent and tenacity to become a professional writer. (Lost a couple already)
Remain standing if...
b) You have brought business cards with you today. (Shockingly I have lost whole audiences with this one question. How are you going to promote yourself?)
Remain standing if...
c) You know exactly what your monthly financial outgoings are. (They are tumbling like skittles now! How can you run a business if you don't know what your overheads are?)
At this point usually 97 of the 100 are sitting down and the questions that follow reveal the few that are left standing are well organised, proactive and have set goals for what they want to achieve. At this point I usually discover at least one of them is another speaker at the event. [That was me! NM] So, out of 100 "passionate and committed writers" no more than one 1 or 2 of them will ever go on to make a full time living from their work....and I'm probably being very generous in my estimation. Don't believe me? Ask those who teach or run courses for an honest opinion and I'm sure they will agree, off the record of course. The vast majority who have passed through their classes have given up or failed to achieve their goal.
Now, I'm not criticizing the teachers, there are some great courses and events taught by very smart, passionate individuals. However, when it comes to passing on knowledge the old saying "You can lead a horse to water but you can't make it drink" is never truer. Knowledge is useless until it becomes an action and if I lost you with the first few questions you are wasting your time and money simply by failing to take the necessary and appropriate action.
Be honest. How long have you been trying to become a pro and how successful have your efforts been? Not happy with your results? Then the following 100% accurate prediction should scare the hell out of you -
If you keep on doing what you're doing, you will keep on getting what you're getting.Sure, you've probably heard me say it before, but it's true! Every time you get frustrated or disappointed you need to remind yourself of this and take action. Here's just a couple of simple things you can do to boost your career prospects.
1. WHY IS ANYONE GOING TO PAY ME?
Ask yourself that question. Why pay for your opinion, because ultimately that's what all writing is.
You keep hearing there's no money to be earned as a writer unless you learn to diversify. We are all going to have to work with a splintered income stream, gained from writing articles, games, novels, screenplays, plays, multi platform projects, the range of potential income is vast and daunting. Where do you start? Easy.
Make it so people come to you.
For that you need a Unique Selling Point, (USP). For example my USP for a long time was that weird job combination I mentioned earlier, bouncer by night and hairdresser by day. I was an authority on a very male, sometimes funny and often violent world. In contrast I was also able to talk about the kind of intimate secrets woman shared in the salon chair.
So what's your USP? What are you going to use to sell you? It's not enough just to be talented, we all want the truth, the genuine article that speaks with authority and that's what you need to be selling. It may be an experience you had, a former career, someone you have cared for...or hurt. Become the "go to guy or gal" for a certain area of stories.
Haven't got a USP? Then get one. Controversy always gets people's attention. Do your research into a highly controversial area and become the expert in your chosen field. Volunteer for an organization and gain an insight into another world that people want to know about. Be able to speak a truth and publicize the fact via your blog, website etc. Not only will your writing be better but you will be the voice of authority that people seek out.
2. DON'T SEND E MAILS CHASING WORK. Speculative emails are the equivalent of throwing out a message in a bottle.
Write a phone script.
Practice what you are going to say.
Get a name and make sure you know who you are sending your ideas to.
Then follow up. Be polite but tenacious.
3. LEARN THE BUSINESS you want to write for. Nuff said.
4. WANT VERSUS NEED. Okay, remember we are here to make money and as all the idealists, hobby writers and folk with fat pensions have turned their eyes away for the moment we can get down to the dirty basics. Before you start writing you need to ask yourself the question "Who will want this?" Seems obvious doesn't it? But is that what you do, or do you mix it up with "people need this". Most of us need to live a healthier lifestyle, but we don't want it enough to make the extra effort. If you are going to pour your efforts into any project give yourself a fighting chance of making money by at least writing to an existing market, one that wants that product.
For example. Selling original drama scripts to producers and financiers is becoming impossible. Relationship dramas, Coming Of Age stories etc are the kiss of death to raising money from investors and studios. They want a clear and simple concept they can market to an established and accessible audience demographic. That means genre projects - thrillers, comedies, horror, action. If your idea can't be marketed with that simple, clear label the money men get twitchy. Getting a film, book or play noticed is easier if it's got a hook that grabs people's attention. That means genre, stars, major controversy or based on a well known and already successful property, such as graphic novels. These are more popular than ever as a source for screen adaptation and below is an extreme, but excellent example of what I've been talking about.
Logline: After the remains of Pinocchio are discovered, Red Riding Hood, now a noted wolf hunter, and Jack the Giant Killer partner to discover who is murdering the creatures of folklore all of whom are supposed to be protected by a charm that renders them almost immortal. Along the way, they are assisted by Goldilocks, a mercenary, and Hansel & Gretel, now psychic exterminators.
Writer: Nick Percival (creator)
Prod. Co: Imagine Entertainment Radical Pictures
Genre: Dark Fantasy
Graphic novel published by Radical Comics. Imagine's Ron Howard an& Brian Grazer and Radical's Barry Levine will produce.
You can see the poster already! Well known characters given an intriguing twist, with a clearly defined and exciting goal. Just wish I'd pitched it first.
Okay, next article I'll be talking about why novelists and short story writers need to be considering screenwriting as an income source and how to approach the industry.
Hard-hitting, eh? Now, of course, if you are a poet or you are genuinely writing purely for the pleasure it gives you and for the art, and happy to find just a few dedicated readers, and if you really don't mind not having any more than a handful of paying readers, that's fine, ignore what Adrian and I are saying. But, if you're a professional writer, you simply have to think along these lines. Don't be depressed - either be inspired, or walk away and continue to enjoy writing as a hobby.
Comments, anyone? Remember, this is a practical article, not about the craft of writing but about how to make a living from it. (Actually, I believe that the attempt to make a living also hones your writing and develops you as a versatile writer.) We have to take all this on board, not to follow it slavishly but to understand it as reality and to adapt it wherever possible to our own situation, needs and wishes.
"Adrian Mead's classes are brilliant - exciting, informative and inspirational. Nobody does it better!"
Alanna Knight Edinburgh / "Attending one of his classes gives you all the tools you need to succeed. The rest is up to you!" Katherine Edgar / "There are two things you need to break into the industry as a new writer - talent ........... and a day with Adrian Mead." Afua Naa-Lamle Viana