In the last month, I have attended and participated in Screenwriter World East in New York City, and Author 101 University in Los Angeles. Although I am primarily a writing coach, I also am asked to guide writers through the next steps after a screenplay, novel or non-fiction book is completed. In my most recent book, “How To Sell Your Screenplay In 30 Days Using New Media,” I offer writers a 30-day marketing plan, which does not guarantee a sale, but does guarantee that you will have all of your ducks in a row, and be on your way. Because the business has changed the book shows the writer how to promote themselves via websites, social media arenas such as Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and also how to take advantage of traditional tactics such as the query letter, contests and attending pitching conferences. Writers of prose have a different path but the structure is very similar.
While the strategies for books and screenplays are different, the goal for both is to find an agent who will sell the project. In both areas, the daunting reality is that the writer is expected to act as his/her own agent until an actual agent is found.
Although the playing field is changing dramatically and writers have options beyond the traditional sale of work to a producer or studio (or in the case of prose to a publishing house) the first step is still to secure representation.
The difficulty in attracting an agent is that an agent makes a percentage of what you make – which when starting out is nothing. It’s a tough situation because you need to sell to get an agent, but it is almost impossible to sell without one. Writers attend these conferences because they have an opportunity to “pitch” their work directly to agents, producers, and managers in the hope of making a connection.
The one thing that all writers need to do is to find mentors that champion their work, and this is an often-skipped step that can lead to finding the right agent. For example, getting your script optioned by a producer is, ironically, the best way to get an agent because once there is money; an agent is sure to follow. In the prose world, a similar strategy prevails – writers self-publish and self-promote and often will get an agent who then gets them a major deal at a publishing house, the equivalent of a studio.
To recap: Your best bet is to try to find a producer or production company who wants to make your script into a movie.
So my tip for this month is: How to be your own agent until you get one.
Here’s the exercise:
Step 1. You must be on the web. If you don’t have a web presence, you will be considered an amateur or worse. Set up a simple website. This functions as your online resume. I recommend that you get involved and have a Facebook presence, as well as Twitter and Linked In, but it’s not for everyone. The minimum is having a website. WordPress is one of several inexpensive software that exists to make the mechanics easy to handle. WordPress also offers a free blog-type website if cost is an issue.
Step 2. Find your target buyers. Get on the web and figure out who might produce or option your screenplay. Find those people who produce the sort of film you have written. There are many resources available including IMDB, Variety and the Hollywood reporter. These are the people you are going to contact first. You should also identify which agents might be a fit as well. Managers are also a possibility, but unless they are also agents, working with one can be great or a disaster, so tread carefully.
Step 3. Approach agents and producers by email. The basic method of contacting industry professionals is the query letter, sent via email, which consists of a one-paragraph synopsis, a bio, optionally a logline, in standard business format i.e. with your address, their name, title, address etc. There is an example in my book, which I do urge you to invest in. Once accomplished, send it out and follow through. DO NOT, I repeat do not, attach your screenplay. You can only submit it if it requested. There are services that will write and send your letters if you really can’t bear doing it.
Step 4. Screenwriting contests. This is another legitimate way to find an agent so do more research to ascertain which contests are appropriate. One good site is moviebytes.com, though I am sure there are others. Winning a contest is obviously a good way to add value to the project, but even entering gets you exposure; and often, for a small additional fee, you can receive a review of your work.
Step 5. Go to pitch fests, writer’s conferences and film festivals. Anywhere you can meet agents and producers is worth the investment because there is no substitute for actually meeting people in person. If this is out of your budget, there are virtual pitch fests and sites where you can post a logline. You might also inquire about the possibility of volunteering in exchange for free entry.
These are some of the key steps I discuss in my new book. Remember: Your very first job is to get the script read, so follow the steps above, and make a promise to yourself that you will never give up.
Good luck and Happy Writing!