Friday, January 31, 2014

A Plan for Your Screenwriting Career – Part 3: Marketing Goals

When I started this series on making a plan for your screenwriting career, I mentioned that one of the challenges is dealing with things that are out of our control. The last couple posts I’ve talked about writing spec material. That is something that is within our control – it’s one of the advantages of being a writer. We don’t need permission from someone else to write.

But there’s more to being a professional writer than writing. If it’s not a hobby, then we need to do the business side of the job as well. So if we’re making a plan for our career, then we should include some goals related to marketing our work. Making a goal to “sell a script” or “get a writing assignment” is no good, though. Those things are out of our control. But we can control what we do to increase the odds of something like that happening.

Everyone’s resources will vary. If you’re an unknown living in the Midwest, you will need a different plan than a writer with an agent and manager and produced credits.

Fundamentally you build your career in screenwriting by writing great material and getting as many industry people as possible to read it.

If you are just starting out, getting those reads will be more difficult. Screenwriting contests can be helpful, but there are a thousand of them and most won’t do you much good. So you have to do research to find out which are best. There are also fellowships you can apply for, and the Sundance Screenwriters Lab. Part of your plan may be to do some homework and compile a list of appropriate, worthy places to submit your work.

If you are an established writer with representation, then a goal might be to increase your contact list or refresh your current network’s perception of you. Both goals require writing a spec.

Most professionals should be writing new spec material every few years at minimum. A new spec gives your agent a reason to contact new producers and development execs and get your work to them. And if you find your current network isn’t generating assignment jobs like it used to, then new spec work can get their attention and remind them what a great writer you are.

When you produce a new spec, don’t just hand it to your representation and wait for them to do the selling. Make a list of people you’d like them to get the work to. You might start with the list generated when you were considering your brand. Get on IMDB and look up movies similar to what you do and find out who produced them. Sign up for Done Deal Pro and search for spec sales in your genre and find out who bought them. Follow the trades and keep track of any relevant buyers you read about. I keep a running document on my computer of potential new contacts.  Whether your representation contacts all these people or not, they will appreciate that you have done your homework.

Even if you don’t have representation, if you have some credibility (produced credits, a degree in screenwriting from a major university, significant contest wins) you may be able to get some of these people to read your material by cold calling (or cold emailing… is that a thing?). But plan your call or email carefully – keep it brief, highlight why they should pay attention to you up front, and have a killer logline. And be ready with a two-minute pitch if they should ask you to tell them about the script.

Of course if you don’t have an agent or manager finding representation could be a goal – but perhaps it shouldn’t be. It is easier to get producers to read your work than agents. When the industry takes an interest in you, the agents will come calling. Managers might be more useful. You can make a list of candidates using Done Deal Pro and target them with cold calls/emails just like producers. But really, unless you’re somewhat established, you may find chasing representation takes a lot of time for not much result.

Networking is also a big part of getting new contacts and getting people to read your work. You might include a greater focus on networking in your plan. Perhaps you could join an organization like Film Independent or Scriptwriters Network and make a point to attend their meetings/events regularly.

(For tips on effective networking, try these posts: 
How Not to Network )

Your business-oriented goals will work in concert with your writing goals, of course. The best time to increase your contact list is going to be when you have a new spec script ready to go. Next week I’ll wrap up this series by discussing how we can pull all these things together into a coherent plan.

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