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Thursday, August 7, 2008

Network Me. Don't Stalk Me.

Networking is one of the most important skills that a budding screenwriter needs to acquire. Network at writing or screenwriting functions. Network with other writers. Network with professionals you have the opportunity to meet. Watch the movie, NETWORK - it has nothing to do with networking but man, if you haven't seen that movie...prepare to be blown away.

Here is what networking is:

meeting, greeting, exchanging of information, sharing of laughter, stories and phone numbers.

Here is what networking is not:

creeping people out, following them, not reading social signals.

If you meet other writers at an event - take a moment to get to know them. Maybe you can gain a feedback partner. Surely you can glean useful information - maybe they queried a manager who was receptive. They might have tried some screenwriting software you've been curious about. Maybe they found a way to understand structure that totally makes sense to you.

It's just like every other walk of life. It takes a damn village. If a person has gone before you and discovered a pitfall or a hand hold on a ledge, learn from that. Most ideally - maybe, just maybe through six degrees of separation, someone has a friend who has a friend who has a friend in the position to do something to help you out when the time comes.

But networking does not equal entitlement. If you meet someone with that friend of a friend of a friend, in all likelihood, they won't announce that straight away and if there's one thing people can smell a mile away, it's someone who is trying to use them. And it makes you squeeze tight like a mussel at low tide. Nobody likes the feeling of being exploited and used.

You have to develop relationships over time. Be there for the person you're networking with. Ask not what they can do for you - ask what you can do for them. Be generous and authentic. Do not over inflate who you are and what you have to offer. Just be real. Among all other human qualities, we are drawn to authenticity. It feels like a million bucks when someone is real with you. Networking is about an exchange of information but more than that it's about relationship building.

So what do you do if someone seems to glom onto you and you get the distinct sense they will do you no good at any point in time? Gently, politely be too busy and hard to reach.

Wait - isn't that counter to everything the Wave-inatrix just said above - about being authentic and generous?! Isn't the idea of weighing how advantageous knowing someone is completely awful? Well kids - they don't call it show friends, do they? Here's a little tip: network with writers who are at least your peers. Networking with someone who is more of a beginner than you are will do you no good. Unless you want to mentor someone which is a perfectly nice thing to do. But it won't get you anywhere. You may have a lot to offer that person but you need to be networking with people who have something you can learn or benefit from. But all of this is relatively self-explanatory, even if it does seem to have an awful self-centeredness at its core. Be authentic but be realistic.

You do not need 12 new friends who do not know what a slugline is. You do need one or two new network-friends who can turn you on to a great screenwriting message board, a new software, or a production company currently looking for material. You are looking for someone who might be able to make an introduction and get you connected to someone who won a competition you've never heard of and that is perfect for your genre.

When you go to a screenwriting event, bring business cards. I know many, many of you have gotten "Sylvia Silversteen - Screenwriter" printed on your cards. I wouldn't necessarily burn all those cards but I'll be honest - it's kinda goofy. I'm sorry, it just is. Obviously you're a screenwriter, you're at the damn event. Professional screenwriters don't usually announce that in cursive font on a business card. If you have that on your business card, I'll be honest, if you give that card to a professional such as myself, later, we will giggle at it a little bit. I know. It's mean. But we do. Because it's silly and it makes you look somewhere between an over-eager goofmeister and a rank amateur. I know. It stings. But I'm being honest.

Also, please do not make up some production company that you "own" and have that on your card. Also goofy. If I work in Hollywood, I'll either immediately recognize it's a fake company or I'll look it up and find out it's fake. And you look - goofy.

If you have some other day job and you also write, come up with some nice looking business cards that simply say your name, phone number and email address. Less is more. All I want is to be able to contact you but if it's me you're giving the card to, in all honesty, I won't be contacting you - you'll be contacting me. You can give me your card if you feel compelled to but really, you should take MY card because I don't have twelve-thousand hours in a day to email people I just met, don't know and who probably want something from me.

Get nice, professional, slightly clever cards made with your name and contact information only. They don't have to be dull - my personal cards have a great D.H. Lawrence quote on them, toward the bottom, in italics. My business cards obviously feature my business information. URL, services offered, all of that stuff. I carry both with me. You can order business cards in a number of places but a good friend of mine had extraordinarily clever and effective cards made at for a very affordable price at Etsy. Check it out.

If you meet a professional such as myself at an event, be cool, man. Just be cool. Everybody wants to meet a professional at an event. Don't hog my time and loiter at my booth or in my class so long that I can't talk to other people too. Don't follow me into the bathroom (yup; more than once) or the parking lot (twice, recently). Don't ask for my home number. Don't ask me to read your script for free. Don't get into my personal space, don't start emailing me six times a day with little favors and questions (happens all. the. time.) I am friendly but I am not your friend. I am a professional and I'm at this event to do business. Don't ask me to meet you for coffee sometime if I've just met you. I'm busy and I don't know who you are, even if you seem nice. If you follow me around - into the parking lot, bathroom, restaurant during break, you actually scare me a little, the same way that would scare you a little. It's not cool.

In my case, many of my clients have become my friends and associates. Because we had a strong chemistry and because those clients add value to my business and to my life. Don't assume you can do that too without courting me politely for awhile first. Ask what you can do to help me. Not the other way around - not right away. And not til I can see that you are a great writer and a real mover and shaker.

A writer who was working as an assistant on Grey's Anatomy once hit me up, out of the blue, to review a short script of his. He was a co-worker of one of my best friends. For that reason, I did it. The film was made, I was thanked in the credits and now we are about to meet to discuss making one of my short stories into a short film. I scratched his back, now he's scratching mine. More importantly, in our initial interaction, he had some creds that made me prone to help him: he was on a big show (in any capacity) and he worked with one of my oldest friends. That gave him a free pass. I had faith in where he was coming from, in other words.

So when you network - have an ungoofy business card. Be authentic and friendly while sussing out whether who you are chatting with is about on your level or not. If you get a creepy feeling that the person you're chatting with has a slight form of Aspergers, gently extricate yourself. If you have a feeling the person is super nice but a total novice, gently extricate. If you feel the person is about on your level - fine, get to know them a bit. Proceed with caution. There are a lot - and I mean A LOT of strange writers out there. Be careful. Get a copy of Malcolm Gladwell's Blink - it is true that you can usually tell in about two nanoseconds, whether a person is weird or genuine. Trust your instincts.

When meeting a professional, be aware that for every one of them you are meeting, they are meeting a thousand of you. If you bump into them in the bathroom or eating lunch - say hello and let them have some privacy. I know it seems really elementary, Wavers, but I have seen the opposite happen all too many times. If you do bump into me at lunch, let me eat lunch. If you bump into me at the cocktail reception afterwards, maybe ask me how I am, rather than launching into your pitch or your story again. If you really want to make me happy, send me a thank you note or a thank you email. Check in with me once every few weeks and ask how I am and wish me well. Don't ask me favors until I offer you the favor. Which I may not, so don't be offended. And don't be offended if I don't answer your email. I saw it, but I'm busy.

As you build your network, you build some legitimacy. If you email me and you know someone I know - ah - whole different story. Then you'll get my attention much more quickly. But don't lie about that or exaggerate it. I'll find out. I had someone do that to me just a few months ago - use someone else as a gateway to me. I fell for it, the writer, as it turns out, was a complete nut job and when I went back to check that association in question - it was only in passing. I had been had. So now I check. You're a pal of Blake Snyder's? Really?! So am I! And now I'm gonna email Blake and ask.

So let's rinse and repeat -

What networking is:

meeting, greeting, exchanging of information, sharing of laughter, stories and phone numbers.

Here is what networking is not:

creeping people out, following them, not reading social signals.

That is all. Now get back to work.



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12 comments:

Kirkland said...

For a long time I had this image:
"http://i27.photobucket.com/albums/c189/Slugwriter/epa2021l-1.jpg?t=1218137450">biz card image
on the front of my business card, along with my name and contact image. On the back was another cartoon also with my name/contact info...

If anyone still has one of these cards, mail it back to me and I'll buy you lunch.

JPS said...

Yes, I'll second that. A business card that states Joe Schmo, Writer is in my books just as bad someone who goes jogging in a shirt that reads, "I'd rather be home writing my novel".

Well then go home and write your novel, cheesedick, and stop spilling sweat on Mother Earth.

However, I will tell this quick tale. There is a famous playwright who happens to live within forty-five minutes of me. Very famous, but not quite Arthur Miller famous.

He wrote the screenplay for a film about a writer that did mediocre business back in the early 80s. It was filmed in his town, and starred an A-list actor.

Afterwards, and to this day, the writer's license plate read: AUTHOR.

I find this simultaneously tacky, obnoxious and embarrassing. Especially as it's on either end of his expensive thing on four wheels.

2nd2Nun said...

Damn...guess I'll have to get that chest tattoo reading "Screenwriter for Life" covered. :)

Always appreciate the honesty.

I don't know Blake Snyder but he did look in my direction one day. Pretty sure it had nothing to do with my neon yellow shirt.

meg said...

That was funny. Useful advice for any profession.

I just had someone follow me into the bathroom on Monday. Thankfully she stopped talking when I started going. Never had that happen before and I hope it never does again.

Along the same lines about being real- - must every aspiring writer try to be clever in everything they say/write/do? Sometimes I just want to say I'll still like you if you're just yourself.

E.C. Henry said...

Great advice, Julie. I'm going to a networking event up here in Seattle this weekend, and think I'm just gonna let 'er rip. I scale my personality back so much in real life that I just need an outlet. Now I'm just gonna be a goofball, and let the chips fall where they may. Some people will get it, and others will never get it.

I've TRIED to make writer friends, but I've found most writers are VERY UNFRIENDLY. At a recent event I thought I made a connection with a lady writer, we were given an e-mail list of all attendees so I contacted her, and she shot back a unnecesarily nasty, "How dare you e-mail me," response.

Like you, Julie, I am very wary of those who boast.

Keep rockin', and like Luke Wilson says in "The Family Stone," "Don't be afraid to let your freak flag fly."

- E.C. Henry from Bonney Lake, WA

Anthony Peterson said...

OK so my business card in your cornflakes was going too far - but that doesn't make me a stalker, does it?

Kirkland said...

@E.C. Henry:

One of my best friends, a writer as it happens, and I had an auspicious beginning to say the very least. Here's the conversation we had (almost verbatim):

BF: You're a philosopher* too, aren't you?

Me: Huh?

BF: Philosopher*. You sit here and contemplate the world. Then you go home to your lonely writer's garret and write--

Me: Fuck off.

BF: Anti-social type, I get it.

Me: Fuck off, Asshole.

BF: It's okay, I won't blow your cover, I'm a writer too.

And at this points he holds out his hand for me to shake--and to which I give a disdainful look--and quickly retracts it because it might be that I'll bite it off.

Then he stands there, for a few seconds, grabs a chair and pulls up to my table.

BF: You really are anti-social. You must a writer.

Then he gives me his credits in a vain hope I'm impressed.

Me: Listen fuckhead, I'm a fucking car thief--

BF: Really? Tell me about it...

Now he's interested in me as a potential source for a script.

For more than a year I let this go on, we met everyday over coffee-7 days a week. Then after the strike ended I had a party at my house and invited him. There were maybe a dozen writers with their respective domestic partner and/or girlfriends or wives or boyfriends or potential sexual conquest. I digress. Anyway, the cat's out of the bag. And the next day over cafe coffee he corners me...

BF: You are a writer. Why did you lie to me?

Me: I take people as I find them, if they're writers--great. If not--okay, too. Better to make friends first then find out you've only made a connection because of what someone does for a living--

BF: You're an asshole.

Me: I get that a lot.

Here's my point: if you want friendships let them flow naturally. They'll last longer that way. And they'll be more valuable to you, especially when it counts.

Emily Blake said...

Except I have an issue with that. I AM trying to start a production company. I have produced one film with it and am working on my second and I have a functioning website to that end. And I have a logo that is plastered all over everything so it's easily recognized.

And not every single person I meet is at an event. I frequently meet people at parties and around town who I want to give my business card to. And I don't know about you, but I get tons of business cards that I have no idea where they came from. If it says their profession on there then I know. I don't want someone finding my card weeks from now and going "who the hell is this?" and throwing it out because they think I'm a real estate agent.

So you can laugh at me, but everything on my card is there for a reason. And my cards look beautiful.

Julie Gray said...

You make an excellent point, Emily. And knowing you, of course your card is beautiful! You fall into a specific category; you are a writer who is really serious about film making.

Kirkland said...

@Emily/Julie

Ahhhhh...yes. For every "rule" there are exceptions. Which is the point, right?

JPS said...

I think writers' bad reps comes from something like this, which once happened to me. I was asked to make the keynote speech at a writers' convention.

I gave my talk, stepped off the stage and with the men's room dead in my sights was stopped by a large bearded man with a manuscript. A very, very thick manuscript, unboxed, to boot. He shoved it against my chest. "You'll read this, right?"

"Um. No. Sorry. I don't even know you."
"You mean you won't help me?"
"I didn't say that. I just said that I don't know you, and I'm afraid I just don't have the time to read everyone's manuscript."

(When you're a published author you get lots of requests, often tied to, "And you'll refer me to your agent, okay?")

"So you're a snob?"
"No, I'm a working writer. I have books to read and research to do and I think the best thing for you to do is to get it out to professionals in publishing and get an editor's opinion."

"Oh. Okay. Can I have a referral to your editor?"

And when we walk away, headed for that golden urinal against the wall that's been waiting for us for forty-five painful minutes, you can hear the gnashing of teeth and the mantra of, "Goddamn writers. Bunch of assholes."

E.C. Henry said...

Julie,

Just got back from a pitching event in Seattle, WA through the Northwest Screenwriting Guild. Meet a couple of the NICEST people in "the buisness" yet. Don't know if this will lead to my "big break," but it did leave me going home happy from a pitch event for like the first time ever.

I LOVE meeting anyone one making movies in the buisness. But being arround them makes me very nervous. The first time I went to a Screenwriting Expo in Los Angeles I was so keyed up that one night I was shaking on my hotel bed.

- E.C. Henry from Bonney Lake, WA