If you are an artist trying to break into the creative arts industry, you are probably more than aware that a portfolio is essential to being taken seriously and shows what you have to offer the marketplace. However, what I’m seeing over and over again are amateurs who are failing to see what is probably the most valuable side of their offering and completely ignoring what is a critical component in their marketing strategy. Let’s talk about what you might be missing, how it’s holding you back, and what you can do about it.
I’m guessing, since you’re reading this, that you produce or effectively produce something akin to spec work. That’s speculative material you create in your own time to bolster your portfolio, demonstrate what you’re capable of, and offer as intellectual property with potential value. This is, on the most part, a capital investment of effort by yourself in the hope that prospective buyers discover this property and wish to buy the rights. If you’re a screenwriter, this is going to be a collection of screenplays you hope industry members will wish to purchase, but the same logic applies in most areas of the creative arts world — you make stuff for free and hope it sells.
I’m guessing that you also focus a lot of energy into trying to get attention on this material by doing what you can to maximise its exposure within the marketplace. I’m also assuming that you see this circle of completion where you sell a property, your material goes mainstream, your artistic brilliance becomes apparent, and people start banging on your door like a hoard of hungry zombies with wads of cash in their hands wanting a piece of that delicious, highly imaginative brain of yours.
I can predict this because it’s a very common strategy, one touted by gurus and advised by peers everywhere. It seems everybody feels they just need to create that magic bullet that will win the right award, be showcased in the right environment, or fall under the eyes of the right person.
And it’s a valid strategy too, but what if I were to tell you, it’s just a small part of the overall picture? What if were to tell you, you’re potentially missing out on a huge section of the marketing process?
Being a screenwriter, this is what I see on a daily basis; I tour various writer communities to find them bristling with frustrated writers who have one or more spec scripts they believe are valuable and they’re throwing everything they’ve got at competitions, evaluation services, and querying while adding their material to whatever listing sites they can find. The belief is that, at some point, a reader is going to approve of their work and validate it by running it up the flagpole to the producers they know which will eventually lead to either a sale or an assignment. Of course, for the vast majority, and I’m talking about pretty much everybody, this lightning in a bottle moment never happens, hence the frustration. It’s not likely to happen though either, because almost all of these exposure methods are subjectivity lotteries. For those that become aware of this, that frustration quickly becomes futility. While craft does play a significant part in the process, you’re still picking numbers and hoping the person at the other end likes them.
So what I instinctively do when I see these creatives ranting about how unfair it all feels and how they deserve to be put on a pedestal is I go and check them out. I mean, it’s just logical, right? If you claim to be brilliant, I’m going to be wowed by your profile, your credentials, your views, and hopefully your work. However, what I almost always discover is either a complete blackhole of information, poorly presented vague statements, or deliberately constructed trash. It is, quite frankly a disgrace.
You see, there is this enormously valuable component in your offering and that is you.
Your untapped talent, your untapped creativity, your untapped passion is precisely what industry members are desperately searching for. Why would you not be doing everything in your power to sell yourself as an artist? Why would you put years into hoping for a once in a lifetime opportunity rather than spend an afternoon on elements that can benefit you right away?
Do not underestimate the value of yourself right now. You are not an insignificant product of your work, your work is a tiny representation of you.
Yet you hide yourself away in the corner, either refusing to talk to anyone, completely misrepresenting your talent, or deliberately acting like a complete weirdo every single time somebody shows interest.
Here’s the harsh truth, nobody who can help you break-in wants to cold read a script just to get a bearing on who you are as a writer. It doesn’t matter how compelling and high concept your logline is.
You wouldn’t walk into a networking event and behave like this so why do it online? But the thing that really makes me want to get on my knees and weep is the fact I’m talking about creative writers here. I’m talking about people who want to be paid to write and are angry that’s not happening yet can’t be bothered to take an hour out of their lives to write about themselves.
I see writers I’ve known for nearly ten years now who are still trying to break in and still don’t have a simple professional biography on the networking sites they frequent. These are people who can find the time in the day to fill forum posts with rants and opinions about how excluded they feel by the industry yet choose to consciously exclude from that industry via their own apathy.
How can anybody take you seriously in the business if you aren’t willing to show you’re serious about the business?
A well written, compelling biography that helps sell yourself as an artist should be the absolute bare minimum you’re doing. As a writer, it serves the dual purpose of not just presenting your offering to the marketplace but also demonstrating your ability to write. You should be chomping at the bit to produce a succinct introduction that conveys your passion, your voice, your aspirations, and your successes. Avoiding it altogether or doing a bad job of it just screams that you aren’t really interested and aren’t really capable. Guess what? In less than one minute, I just closed the loop on why you can’t break-in. I clicked on your profile link to find your bio empty, lazy, or just plain odd. That’s now my view on you as an artist; empty, lazy, or just plain odd. Yes, I appreciate it’s often a case of modesty or stage fright that holds people back from selling themselves but it doesn’t come across as such.
Want to write a powerful introduction that will draw people into looking at your material? You just need 250 to 350 words on;
- Where your passion lies.
- Your journey so far.
- Where you want to go.
- What makes you special.
- What you’re working on.
That’s so easy to do and an ideal opportunity to show eloquent, well-structured writing that provokes intrigue and solicits an emotional response. You know, the stuff you’re supposedly so passionate about and talented at.
But it should not stop here. As a born writer, it is your duty to want to document your life experience, reflect upon it, and share what you’ve learned with the world in the form of storytelling. You should be blogging, producing articles, and updating the world in a way that entertains and inspires. If you think you aren’t worthy of that position then please find the belief you need within yourself for your own sake. You cannot want to write for a big studio on the one hand and be too timid to write a thought provoking Facebook status update on the other. Your vulnerability is actually your beauty and you must learn to love showing that rather than continuing to hide it away.
Look, it works. Industry members do read blogs, see status updates, and go on to read bios that cause them to then want to read scripts and eventually invest in the spark of light they originally picked up on. I know because it worked for me and led to me breaking in. I want you to have the same opportunity. If my story isn’t high profile enough then consider the one for Diablo Cody who was blogging about life as a stripper before finding a manager and collecting her Oscar for Best Original Screenwriter just five years later. It happens this way and it’s logical that it happens this way.
Know that your work and yourself are two different commodities and their route to market differs significantly. Your work is what you have done and you are everything you may go on to do. Go out there and sell yourself by simply having the guts to be yourself and know that the effort you put into something as simple as a good biography can be selling you while you sleep.
Invest in yourself and be proud of what makes you you, because you’re almost certainly pretty awesome and worth way more than you dare to believe.