A lot of books claim they can help authors who are in a
hurry to get paid for their writing. This one is enthusiastically subtitled Your Guide to
a Profitable Writing Career Within One Year, and it certainly
does include supportive, direct information a freelancer needs to achieve
such a goal. Author David Trottier has made his living as a freelance writer since
1988, publishing hundreds of magazine articles in national publications like Writer's Digest and Road and Track and now writes a
regular column for scr(i)pt magazine, having written and sold
several feature film scripts. His other books include The Screenwriter's Bible.
From an exercise on discovering your "writing soul" and what kind
of assignments will suit you to a discussion of the parameters of assignments
("What begins as left-brain activity culminates in a right-brain
explosion--the solution bursts, bubbles, or flows into consciousness."),
David invites his readers to experience passion and excitement on their path
to finding and fulfilling freelance assignments. Understanding writers'
blocks, David ambitiously but simply presents
methods for de-stressing along side ideas for encouraging creativity. Because
creativity is not seeing "what everyone else sees, but to see it in a
little different light or a slightly different way"…to convert "the
habitual into the original," he presents a "renaming
constellations" exercise for help breaking out of boundaries to
recognize new ways into any subject. Doing the exercise himself, he created
Boris, The Bug. He used curved line for the bug's body, unlike the point A to
point B lines we see in maps of the stars. "You may think I cheated in
my creation of Boris, The Bug, because I used curved lines. Who says lines
must be straight? That's conventional thinking," the author asserts.
After reading this upbeat, no-nonsense "you can do it and you can change
your thinking if you think you can't do it" guide, I asked David's
publicist how I could interview the author. With his email address newly on
my spool, I sent David some questions:
How did you start your writing career? How did you grow it to the point where
felt comfortable coaching writers and writing books that coach them?
I was a marketing executive when I decided it was time to write. Because I
had a marketing background, I decided to try the most "marketable"
types of writing first, and that was business writing and copywriting. I had
done plenty of it before as a marketing manager and then marketing VP. My
first writing job was just an editorial/proofreading job. I described it in
detail on pages 27-28 in my book. Eventually, I built up a clientele, some of
which were people I worked with as a marketing executive.
I began branching out into other areas of writing. One of those was
screenwriting. I had some early successes in that area, so I began to teach
others about it. As I analyzed myself, I realized that I was a teacher first,
and that writing was extension of my teaching. I knew the writing seminars I
created were very successful and helpful to writers because I started hearing
success stories from them. That teaching experience led to the self-published
first edition of The Screenwriter's
Bible. Since then, I have sold over 200,000 copies of that book.
Two other seminars that I conducted were entitled "17 Ways to Make a
Living as a Writer," and "Free at Last! How to Get the Inner Writer
Out and Working For You." Those became the source material for The Freelance Writer's Bible. The
books have been successful partially because I have worked with so many
writers and have an understanding of their needs.
I read the story of getting your first copyediting job, going right to the
President of a mid-sized company and telling him his brochure was brilliant,
but it was too bad he hadn't been shown the final draft because he would have
seen the typos and had a chance to correct them. It must have been an
interesting moment to negotiate when you realized he'd written the brochure
himself. You seem unstoppable and ready to get what you want. How about when
you are writing? You mention in the book that we can all train ourselves to
strengthen areas we are not strong in. For you, it was learning to develop
your free-associational mind despite a well-developed prioritizing,
After reading Zen and the Art of
Motorcycle Maintenance, I was convinced there was something to intuition
and the subconscious mind, so I began to "listen" to my
"masculine intuition." Once I became more acquainted with that
"feeling" side, I recalled past experiences where my intuition had
helped me. For example, I was a short stop in a softball game, and I got the
feeling I should move two steps to my left. So I did and caught a liner for
the final out.
Encouraged, I continued to act on my intuition and, like a muscle when it is
exercised, it became stronger. Now I promote the importance of using both
sides of your brain. Why be a half-wit?
What are your hopes for your readers?
Payday for me is when I get a call or e-mail from a writer who has broken in
or made a major deal. The other night I was at a book signing and two men
came in just to thank me. They had just landed two or three major deals with
some well-known Hollywood types. I receive a letter and a book from a woman
recently. It was her first book and it was selling.
In answer to your question, I have two hopes for writers. First, I hope that
they find themselves as writers. Second, I hope that they can succeed with
their writing. It's a wonderful thing to experience success in an area that
Writer's Bible is in its spirit
generous; it offers its readers creative yet structured advice that should
pay off. Page 92 contains a well-researched list of freelance writing fees in
33 categories ranging from email ads (35 to 100 dollars an hour) to 30-minute
speeches (2,000 to 4500 dollars) to video or DVD scripts (10% of the budget).
Seven pages on how to attract clients amount to a business plan. Many of the
pages contain useful details such as manuscript submission guidelines, kinds
of rights you can offer, simple sample submission logs and sample logs for
noting important contacts. As a sample book proposal, David includes his
proposal for this book. Whether you want to know how to write a query letter,
how submit poetry, how to become a ghost writer, or how double your income
and double your fun, David has included the information you need in a format
and tone that allow you to absorb the information and move on to practicing
the necessary steps for success. David's guide offers a "let's get right
down to it" discussion of creative vision and the writing process as
well as a coach's focus on how to use industry information to make decisions
and sell work. That Trottier is a writer and teacher who cares about helping
others comes through in this well-organized guide for those who'd like to
By permission of the author and Silman James Press
in Los Angeles, I am reprinting an excerpt from pages 145-148 of The Freelance Writer's Bible. I've
chosen this excerpt about how to market yourself as
a screenwriter because screenplay writing is a genre many of us consider,
whether we are fiction or nonfiction writers, but often without knowing how
Hollywood works. Here's David on the issue:
Writing for the Movies
Most screenwriters break into the movies writing a few spec scripts. Let me explain.
The first step to becoming a screenwriter, animation writer, or TV writer is
to write screenplays and teleplays on spec. You must do the work first.
Agents and producers are simply not interested in your proposal or synopsis
because there are so many other writers out t here who have completed
screenplays to market. So learn your craft and write a great screenplay of
100-120 pages in correct format. Even if you want to write for TV, you will
want to write an original feature-length screenplay as a sample of your work.
Once that script is written, you will approach agents or producers or both.
The large producers are not approachable without an agent. So your game plan
is to craft cogent and creative query letters to send to small and
intermediate producers and WGA signatory agents. A WGA signatory agent is one
who uses contracts approved by the Writers Guild of America (http://www.wga.org). The
WGA has offices in Los Angeles and New York, depending on which side of the
Mississippi you reside. Contact them for a list of approved agents.
You will chose producers of films that are similar to the type of film you
envision for your script. You will choose agents that are listed by the
Writer's Guild of America. Directories of producers and agents abound, so it
is not difficult to find names. One company that produces such directories is
Hollywood Creative Directories (5055 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90036,
Do your research first and create a list of possible producers and agents to
contact. (Review the chapter on "How to find an agent" in this
book.) Agents prefer that you approach them first before approaching
producers so that they can be the first to enter the market. So if you have
written a blockbuster, consider approaching agents first and producers
second. However, if your script project is designed as a low-budget film for
a small, independent producer (meaning independent of the studio system),
then an agent is unnecessary. In fact, most first scripts are sold to
producers without the help of an
agent. Some of my clients have sold large producers who later referred them
If your script is perfect for a specific star (called talent in the
business), check to see if that talent has her own production company. If so,
query the production company. The second best way to get a script to a star
is to accidentally meet somewhere. The worst way is to approach the star's
agent. Most likely, the agent simply will not be interested in your script
unless there is a money offer tendered with it.
Of course, the best way to get your script to anyone in the film business is
by referral. If your Aunt Minnie went to school with Robert Redford, then try
to use that. I know it sounds lame, but consider exploiting any connection
that you can find. Industry people often read referred scripts.
Once you have chosen five or ten agents and five or ten producers (which
might include talent), craft the mother of all query letters. A query is a
written pitch. See the section "How to write a query" in Chapter 7
of this book. Never query anyone until your script is completed and ready to
show. Premature pitching is the hallmark of broken dreams.
Pitch letters can be mailed with a stamped self-addressed postcard or faxed.
You may email if your research shows that the recipient will accept e-mailed
queries. Follow up by phone two weeks after the query is sent. You are very
unlikely to be put through to the agent or producer, so speak to the
assistant on the phone respectfully and talk with him about your query as if
he were the agent or producer. Ask, "When should I expect to hear from
Ms. Bigbucks?" or, if the assistant can't find
a record of receiving your query, say, "May I fax you a copy right now,
so you'll have it handy?"
Evaluate the responses you receive. No response means "no." Decide
if you need to revise your query. Once you receive a favorable response to a
query, you will send that person your script with a very brief cover letter
saying that this is your script "as requested." The script will
have a blank front cover and back cover, a title page, and the script itself.
Do not send proposed cast lists, production art, or synopses unless
specifically requested. The script should be three-hole punched and bound
with two brass brads or fasteners. The middle hole will have nothing in it.
Photocopies are acceptable and expected.
If the producer likes the script, you will be paid anywhere from one dollar
to $5 million. More likely, he will want to option the script. That means he
will pay you a small sum of money or nothing for the exclusive right to "show"
the script for six months or a year. During that time, you can't contact
anyone else about the script, and he can't produce it until he pays you the
full price for it. The option agreement will define the full price. If the
option period expires, then the producer must pay you full price, renew the
option for a stated amount, or allow all rights to revert back to you. During
the option period, the producer is using our script to try to attract
financing, talent, and/or another producer.
If an agent responds to your query, she will offer to represent your work.
She may not give you a contract immediately, but all WGA-signatory agents
take 10% of any sale. If an agent does not succeed in any 90-day period, you
are free to search for another agent. Some agents will charge you for
photocopies of your script. Beyond that, there should not be any agent fees.
The agent will send your script to the highest-level executives (producers)
she knows. If an executive likes it, your agent will negotiate a deal. More
likely, the executive will want to meet you. A meeting will be arranged.
At that meeting, the executive will ask you about your work and you'll have
the opportunity to pitch a couple of projects. Then the executive will pitch
some projects to you and get your reaction. He may then say something like
this: "Well, if you have more ideas about this one, I'd love to hear
them." That's your cue to go home and develop a sound story around the
executive's idea. Your agent will arrange another meeting and you'll deliver
and you'll deliver the 20-minute pitch. If the executive likes it, he will
offer you a development deal, a deal to develop (write) the screenplay. Most
of the deals in Hollywood are development deals. That's because producers
already have their own ideas; they just need a writer to write the scripts.
Your first development deal for a large producer will be around $60.000 to
As you can see, in Hollywood, life is just a pitch. You will need to express
yourself orally with these people. Naturally, when you pitch, you can bring
note cards. If you want to hear some sample pitches rent The Player. Most of the pitches are pretty bad and delivered for
comedic effect, but you'll get an idea of how things work.
In essence, what happens to most successful writers is that their script(s)
becomes a sample of their writing ability that finds them work. For more
information on writing, formatting, and selling your screenwriting, but The Screenwriter's Bible by Yours
Truly, or visit www.keepwriting.com.
Television and Cable
TV movies and TV shows such as sitcoms and soap operas work in much the same
way. Your script finds you work. Even with TV, it is smart to write a feature-length
script as a sample. T hen, if you are interested in writing for a particular
show, write a spec script (on speculation that you will sell it later) for a
similar show, but not the same show. Don't write a Will & Grace script if you want to write for Will & Grace. There are a lot of
reasons for that, one being that our script is very unlikely to meet the
producer's expectations of what she needs right now. Thus, you write for
another show that's similar. Your agent sends these sample scripts to the
producer of the show you are interested in, and then a meeting is arranged
for you to pitch several episode ideas.
Although you don't have to live in Los Angeles to be a screenwriter, you will
probably need to be near the production company of the TV show you are
writing for. Incidentally, sitcom writers make tons of money, but work long
There are numerous cable channels these days, and all are looking for
programming. So don't overlook these markets. Some are large (such as HBO ad
Showtime) and some re relatively small (such as PBS local stations like
KCET). I remember an 18-year-ld student telling me that h e had pitched a
project to the Discovery Channel. They liked it, but they wanted to see a
sample script. He told, he "I'm not going to write a script unless they
pay me." I remember thinking that he had missed a wonderful opportunity
to break in.