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The Screenwriter's Coach: Treat Screenwriting Like a Startup Business

April 12, 2019
4 min read time

My first job out of school was at a tech startup. I was employee #3 and my duties ranged from taking out the trash, ordering lunch, and answering emails on behalf of a robot character, to interviewing CEO candidates and appearing on CNN news. That’s life at a startup: you need to be comfortable in every role.

As a writer, you need a successful product—you and your incredible script(s)—but you also need to do the business development, strategic networking, and marketing that all successful startups do to be seen and heard. A writer is a business of one. Time to start acting like it.

3 WAYS TO STRENGTHEN YOUR BUSINESS AND BE A WRITERPRENEUR:

SOCIALS (Marketing, Brand-Building)

In the beginning, I hated social media. The idea of posting about my writing process, projects that didn’t exist yet, and career accomplishments made me want to vomit my writer-shame all over you. Until I decided to raise $37,000 to make my webseries 37 Problems and crowdfunding was the best and fastest way to do that. I was raising the money alone, but the project was already bigger than me. I had actors invested, buyers interested, and most importantly, I had been talking about 37 Problems consistently for over a year. I had been marketing the series through word of mouth and two invited live readings of the script with cast in New York and Los Angeles, which exposed my work and writing process to an audience. Creating an audience gave me accountability. I had better deliver because now 50 people were expecting it! Still, the idea of posting four times/day for 30 consecutive days? Vomit. In desperation, I took my ego out of the equation and asked, “What would an entrepreneur do?” Here is the answer: If you have a product (script, show, pitch, Garden Weasel) that you truly believe will improve the world (make people laugh, cry, give them a break from their reality, help them mulch) it is your duty to talk about said product all day long to anyone who will listen. Since social media is our town square, you then post about your product every few hours because that’s what it takes to make people aware of its existence. The frequency varies by platform and I’m certainly not suggesting you spend all day on Twitter or Instagram, but 20-30 minutes per day? Yes, I am suggesting that. Because social media is not only about telling the world what you’re up to and helping make your projects a reality, it’s giving of your time and thoughts. You have to engage with the people who will become your audience. Talk to them. Comment. Join live events. Follow hashtags that are common themes as a writer, in your genre, or general arena of being and see what others are doing.

Today’s Homework:

INSTAGRAM: Search for existing hashtags for your writing project. For example, 37 Problems is a fertility comedy, so I use #fertility #maybebaby #babyornot. Comment on 3 insta posts by people using those hashtags and follow. (15 min)

LINKEDIN: Make sure your page is up-to-date and that your bio mentions your current project—but that only exists in your head or Final Draft?! So what. Here’s where you make it real. And post one new thing: an image, a quote, some news item from your area of interest or expertise. (5-10 min)

PRODUCT DEVELOPMENT

Your products are your projects. This article is not about creative process, so I’ll skip that, but suffice to say, you need a sound creative process in development. If you do not have one, I recommend Twyla Tharp’s excellent book, The Creative Habit. Now to the actual R&D (Research and Design) that all companies do: You need to know the market. That means subscribing to Deadline, The Hollywood Reporter, or The Wrap and at least glancing at subject lines to see if your brilliant idea has just sold as conceived by someone else. If it has, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t write it or trash what you have—it means you find out as much as you can about that project, and then make yours different. That murder-mystery procedural is set in Texas and so was yours? Move it to Alaska. We don’t see enough Alaska in my opinion. The point is, make it your own again by changing a piece of the logline. And then, clarify to yourself and eventually the world, why YOU ARE THE ONLY PERSON who could write your particular script. If you’re not the only person who could write it? You need to be. Make it more specific. Narrow it. Make it yours and don’t leave anything general.

Today’s Homework:

Subscribe to Deadline, THR, or The Wrap. Read the recent pilot buys and development deals. If you already subscribe, great! You can skip this one.

NETWORKING

I try to go to at least two industry-related events per month. I also meet other industry people for in-person coffees twice a month. Sometimes life gets in the way, so I also network weekly via social media. I put this in a different bucket than the marketing and brand-building because it’s a different muscle and you don’t have to do this one every day, because it takes more time. This is personal; one-on-one or even showing up for a group. It’s educational and it’s a way to give as much as you get, which is a good M.O. to have. If you’re not in a major city, you can do more online than in person, but do try to find the people doing what you’re doing. It helps to have your community around, behind, and in front of you.

Today’s Homework:

FACEBOOK: Message three people you are “friends” with whom you don’t actually know. Ask how they are? What they do? Connect. (5 min)

LOOKING AHEAD: Are there LIVE events on Facebook, YouTube or Instagram that you can join this week? If you need ideas, Stareable.com and Seedandspark.com are indie film sites that do live events that I’ve attended, learned from, and made connections through. Research your genre, the best platform for it, and see what’s available and of interest.

That’s it! You’re done!

Now do it again tomorrow.

If daily startup work is overwhelming, break it into chunks (10 minutes of Instagram, 10 minutes of LinkedIn or Facebook or Twitter) and aim for doing that three days/week. That’s one hour/week. You’ve got that. Grab an accountability partner to whom you text, “done,” each time you finish a session to stay on track—and return the favor. Remember; give as much as you get.
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