Still a thing?

That little paper box full of extra cards is tucked away somewhere

A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of being interviewed on the Telling The Show podcast to talk about networking as it relates to screenwriters.

Over the course of the discussion came this question: in pre-COVID times, it wasn’t uncommon for a writer to have a business card. Does a writer still need one?

I thought it was a great question, and had to really think about it.

My initial thought is probably not, especially due to how most networking is now done online, and most writers have their phone with them, so contact – or at least reaching out – can be practically instantaneous.

What good is having a card to hand out when you’re practically isolated and there’s nobody around to hand it to? These days you’re more likely to connect with somebody via a social media platform, so you’ll probably do everything via email and/or texting in order to set up meeting one-on-one.

A lot of writers now have a strong online presence – websites, blogs, an account on Youtube, Twitter, Instagram, etc., so it’s significantly easier to get in touch with somebody to strike up a conversation, or at least establish a professional relationship.

Keeping that in mind, in-person interaction is slowly coming back, so if we get to the point where you show up at a venue where you don’t know anybody, and then have some nice conversations with people, would you want to have a card to hand out, or be comfortable asking for their email address?

There are exceptions, of course. A majority of writers tend to be on the introverted side, so dealing with a real live person can be somewhat intimidating. This makes online networking easier for some people. Somebody quiet and shy in person might be more involved or outgoing on a Zoom call or on Twitter.

Just as an example, I recently tweeted a compliment to the hosts of another screenwriting podcast regarding the interview they did with a high-profile manager (I also included the manager in the tweet). Both hosts and the manager liked it, and another writer friend of mine added in his two cents, leading to a brief discussion among all of them.

I didn’t do it because I was trying to suck up to the hosts or hope the manager would offer to read something; it was because I liked what I’d heard, and wanted to let them know that. Would I have achieved the same results if this had been done in person? I’m going to go with “slightly maybe, but probably not to the same extent”.

Online interaction is one of the things I encourage for writers seeking to expand their network. Nobody’s going to get to know you if you hang back and stay quiet. Become involved. Join conversations. Just make sure to be polite, civil and respectful.

There are forums and group chats to take part in, as well as lots of screenwriting groups on Facebook. I find the smaller ones to be better because the members tend to be more experienced, more mature, and of a more rational temperament.

Networking and interacting has really changed, especially over the past few years. But one thing remains the same: online or in person, business card or no, be the kind of person you’d want to know.

A little effort with big results

Who doesn’t like hearing that somebody liked something you wrote? Great feeling, isn’t it? You’ve put all that time and effort into it, and this is the response?

Now look at it from the other side – you read something and really liked it. Did you like it enough to let the writer know?

Go ahead and do that. It doesn’t even have to be somebody you know, or who asked you for a read.

It could be somebody with a script you read after hearing good things about it, or who wrote a book or a movie you really enjoyed.

Since so many creative types have an online presence, it’s becoming easier and easier to drop them a line and tell them what a great job they did.

I’ve done this a few times over the past few weeks. One was a veteran comic book writer, one was the creative team behind a show on Netflix, and another was the writer of a great low-budget horror-comedy. The latter two let me know how much they really appreciated it, while the former never responded, which is also a possibility. I just file it under “one of those things” and move on.

This isn’t saying you need to send a gushing lovefest of an email or tweet; just a few lines telling them you liked it. Probably take you all of a minute or two.

It can’t be stressed enough how much of a positive impact this sort of thing can have on a creator. Maybe they were having a rough day, and then your email or tweet pops up. Mood lifted.

It’s tough enough to succeed as a writer, so getting this little bit of encouragement out of the blue could go a long way in feeling like all the work you put in was worth it.

Even better – being the one who sent it.

Learn by doing (apply & repeat)

A few weeks ago, I’d mentioned on social media that part of my plan for this year was to continue doing script notes. The responses were overwhelmingly positive, as well as inspiring a few other writers to do the same thing.

(I’m really cutting back on how many scripts I read. I like the idea of putting more time into my own stuff.)

One writer commented that they’d love to be able to do the same for other writers, but they didn’t have much confidence in their own analytical skills.

We’ve all been there. Giving notes isn’t easy, and some are better at it than others.

Like with everything about screenwriting, there’s no secret formula.

It’s all about taking time and effort to learn how to read a script and be able to recognize what works and what doesn’t. And even that takes time to learn how to do properly, or at least effectively.

I’d suggested to the writer they start by just reading scripts. Could they see what’s good, and what’s not? Opinions vary whether it’s better to work with specs or produced material. I tend to favor the former because that way I’m not influenced by an existing film.

Another option was to get feedback on their own scripts, either from a professional or someone within their personal network whose opinion they trust. Do they understand why the reader made the notes they did?

As cliched as this may sound, when it comes to being able to recognize good writing, you eventually learn to know it when you see it.

I really hope this writer decides to start working on honing their analytical skills. Being a good reader really can help you become a better writer.

A little praise goes a long way

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While a majority of my focus these days is on figuring things out for the sci-fi adventure revision/overhaul, I’ve also been taking time to read the scripts for films that have had some kind of influence on both my writing and my material.

The ones I’ve devoured so far are THE INCREDIBLES and SPIDER-MAN: INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE. I have scripts for non-animated films as well, but these were the two I started with.

Both were great reads, and also served as fantastic samples of effective writing. I was impressed to the point of wanting to say so on social media, so I tweeted short statements of praise to the writers. Levels of fanboy gushing were kept to a minimum.

Phil Lord, one of the Spider-Man writers, liked it, which was quite nice to see. No word from Brad Bird or Rodney Rothman, nor was I expecting any. That’s not why I did it.

Although they might not always admit it, every writer wants to know somebody liked their work. It’s great when it’s one of your peers, but there’s a special something to when a total stranger tells you “Hey, I liked this.”

Since you’re reading this, I’m going with the theory that you’re on at least one or two social media platforms, and there’s a pretty good chance that a writer or filmmaker whose work you enjoy is as well.

And they don’t even have to be famous. I’ve seen plenty of shout-outs and “This is a MUST-READ/MUST-SEE!” comments for material from other writers and creatives also trying to break into the industry.

No matter who they are, why not send them a quick note expressing your enjoyment? It’ll take you all of ten to fifteen seconds to write, and that’s all you need. Just some nice words. And don’t ask for anything in return!

You might get some kind of response, and you might not. Both are okay. For all you know, despite their lack of response, your comment may have brightened their otherwise gloomy day.

The important thing is you let a fellow writer/creative know that their work had a positive impact on you.

And who doesn’t like to hear that?

Writer, promote thyself (part II)

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You’ve got a lot of competition, so how do you stand out in the crowd?

Used to be that you’d need help promoting your own material. Agents, managers, editors,  publicists, etc.

Not as much anymore.

With the worldwide reach of the Internet, a creative individual can present themselves and their endeavors to a global audience, via a website or blog, ads, tweets, and so on.

Having seen more and more of my writing associates taking the initiative and becoming their own promotions department, I was curious to find out more about HOW THEY DID IT and the results.

Some of the responses are presented here, with the rest coming up in future posts. (And if you’ve done something similar for yourself, feel free to drop us a line to be included).

In today’s spotlight:

Mark Gunnion (MG)
Boomer Murrhee (BM)
Diana T. Black (DTB)
Craig Griffiths (CG)
David Hal Chester (DHC)

What projects are you promoting?

MG –  I’m pretty much promoting my last four screenplays for spec sales, and myself as a writer for assignments and re-writes.

BM – A one-hour TV Thriller/Drama titled HELLBOUND HEROES.

DTB –  I have three completed features, and one of my teleplays is being rewritten as a feature.

CG – at the moment “The Hostage” 

DHC – I’m actively promotiong my two female-driven dramas, TILLIE and BIG SISTER. TILLIE is an adaption of a long-forgotten American book, and BIG SISTER is based on a tragic family event. Both screenplays have placed multiple times as finalists, and feedback has been consistently good. I’m also promoting a Netflix-style comedy PRINCESS. IN REVERSE. It’s based on my co-writer’s book, published by Simon & Schuster, about her unique experiences as a young American wife in Nagoya, Japan in the 1990s.

Do you have a website for your material, or do you post each project on an individual basis?

MG – I use a variety of posting sites to post the full scripts and loglines, and for sharing  – MovieBytes, FilmFreeway, InkTip, Coverfly. And I have my own “Screenwriting Services” page, 500Haiku.com, to post my awards, the posters my wife has made for my scripts, a bio, photo, and my log-lines. I’ve also just joined a new site for writers to swap reads and reviews, attached to Twitter, called SpecScriptShoutOut.com, where you can post similar info. I maintain profile pages and loglines at most of those, to varying degrees, when I can get around to updating them. I also have a LinkedIn page that is split between my day-job (naming new products and companies) with my screenwriting services and news. I also host a Screenwriter’s group on Facebook where I mostly learn from people with more experience, and where I try to make a welcoming place for writers to swap war stories and strategies.

BM –  I post each project individually. However, I may consider a website in the future.

DTB – I have a website but it’s still under construction and I need to do a rethink, because it’s getting spammed via the ‘Contact Me’ page… not sure what to do about that. As I’m also a professional actor, I may have to split the current website and have two … warming up to that idea.

CG – www.griffithscreative.com.au is my site. I don’t do social media. I used to focus on social media. However, that is a stream. A stream needs maintenance. My website is a resource. I intend to start a twitter and instagram for each film. For a few months leading up to release.

DHC – I have a website dedicated to not only my original screenplays, but also my short films and produced screenplays that I was commissioned to write. https://www.davidchester.com/

How do you put your promotions together?

MG – Any time I have anything plausible to announce – Finishing a first draft, or advancement in a contest, or a new poster, or something in the news that makes reference to something in one of my scripts – I’ll do a LinkedIn posting, with some kind of exciting, eye-catching picture (since LinkedIn is visually so boring). When I have a good result at a contest, I’ll often do an email blast to prodcos and managers with the win in the Subject line. I am beginning to work the #Writers and #Screenwriters angles on Twitter, and have made a few interesting connections there. 

BM – Once I complete a project and have gotten feedback from peers or coverage I will focus on a succinct logline, query letter and a one-page synopsis. For a TV project I put together a series bible. I begin by sending queries to contacts in my network who may be interested in this type of project. I then expand my network and research IMDb-Pro for producers and show runners. I entered several TV Pilot contests. I am currently planning on another trip to LA/Burbank for face-to-face pitches.

DTB – I have to go back and complete/review the marketing modules for ScreenwritingU’s MSC and Binge-worthy TV Bootcamp…and get marketing, but until I have this body of work ‘licked into shape’, I see little point. I’ve heard that creating buzz  regarding a specific project via Instagram/project is helpful. I’m yet to explore that option. 

CG – I focus on developing my personal brand. This will work across all projects.

DHC – I create mock film posters for my projects, which includes mentions of placements in contests, and create a page for them on Facebook. I also promote them via Twitter and sometimes on Instagram. I also create a 2-page written pitch, a 1-page written pitch, and 1-paragraph pitches, which are made specifically for including in query letters. I also connect with screenwriters on Twitter and writing groups on Facebook and do subtle promotion on those sites. 

How have the results been from your doing this?

MG – Nada. Well, that’s an exaggeration. I have a response rate to my cold queries around 1-2 percent, not atypical for cold-calling type emails, and similar to what I get from my day-job promotion. Only difference, that approach in my day-job has generated a living wage for over 20 years! While after seven feature specs, I’ve only had a couple of no-pay options, and no sales. I have some interactions with a couple of movie-makers via LinkedIn, and I assiduously work on expanding my contact list there.

BM – I’ve had over 20 script requests. However, this has not resulted in an option agreement at the time of this writing.

DTB – I know when I do get around to marketing, it must be a concerted, documented effort and with timely, professional follow-up.

CG – I used to have thousands of twitter follows. I just stopped. I am releasing a podcast on writing which is also a great channel and less cluttered than other channels.

DHC – Perhaps the best thing to be said is that I’ve connected with fellow writers, some of whom have proved to be incredible mentors for pitching and some whom give notes that are better than anything I’ve received in competitions. I have not received any responses to queries, but I will continue to send them out. I personalize them, and that takes a lot of time.

Do any formats seem to work better than others?

MG – None of them have had much impact, as far as I can tell. I still feel like one voice in a stadium full of writers, all screaming for the attention of someone on the playing field – but pretty much just contributing to the general roar.

BM – I’m looking to personal pitches. I will know more after I’ve pitched in person.

DTB – My greatest success (potentially) has been through LinkedIn via industry connections.

CG –  I focus on helping people. I avoid self promotion. People will want to help you as a source of thanks.

DHC – Posting quick blurbs on Twitter and connecting with certain other writers and following specific hashtags puts me on people’s radar and I get the sense that when the time is right, it could be productive. 

What’s the link for people to find out more about you and your projects?

MG –  Please check out my Screenwriting Services website at www.500Haiku.com, or my LinkedIn page at /markgunnion, and my Twitter feed at @Gunnion – and you can search for my name and see my pages on InkTip, Coverfly, MovieBytes, and probably a few others I’ve forgotten about already (Hi, Stage 32!).

BM – https://www.linkedin.com/in/boomer-murrhee/

DTB – https://www.linkedin.com/in/dianablack1/

CG –  www.scriptrevolution.com and www.griffithscreative.com.au

DHC – My homepage is https://www.davidchester.com People can also find me on Twitter at https://twitter.com/davidhalchester