Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Relationship management 101

So we've talked about the importance of networking and how/where to potentially meet other writers and people in the business. Now you need to know what to say to those people and how to keep those connections strong. Most importantly, you have to make your connections work for you.

Let's back up and talk more generally here. I don't know about you, but I find that sometimes I don't do a good job at managing my relationships with others. You meet someone, exchange business cards or program each other into your cellphones and then...you don't follow up. Or they don't call back. Either way, the relationship withers and dies. When that happens, you've just broken the first rule in Relationship Management: Never lose a contact.

You may not understand where each contact fits into the big picture, but that's more reason not to let them fade away. Look at the following list of "contacts" and determine what they all have in common:

-- a writer from your class writing their first script
-- a blogger you've been reading who appears to be working on a TV spec
-- a person you met at the Screenwriting Expo who works as an assistant at a studio
-- a grip who works on films and would like to be a director

Beyond the obvious of 'they are all working their way into or are in the business' there's another key similarity -- they are all contacts! Each one of these people has the potential to be someone you can talk to, pass work to, work with...the possibilities are endless.

Here's a story from my life. This is an example of what NOT to do in managing relationships.

When my sister and I first moved to our condo, our neighbors(who have since moved) were a hairdresser for TV/films on one side and in the other unit was an older woman who used to be a script supervisor. The woman who used to be a script supervisor offered to teach me her craft, something that can be very good work once you get in the union and can also help you understand your writing. She moved out a couple of months after I moved in and I had every intention of keeping her as a contact...

...until I lost her phone number. I tried to track her down, but I still can't find her, a year later. That was BAD. That was a contact I could learn from, who was willing to teach me something that is a very usable skill in this industry and would have helped my writing. (I'll post about script supervisors and what they do some other time, if there's interest). The lesson I learned here was, SAVE EVERYONE'S PHONE NUMBER/E-MAIL ADDRESS/CONTACT INFO. Keep a spreadsheet on your computer or use your e-mail program or a palm pilot to store your contacts. Write them in a book. Whatever you have to do to keep the information, don't lose it.

So, here's a scenario. You've seen that someone has just written a new book about screenwriting and is going to be signing books, maybe even doing a Q&A at a local bookstore (I've done this one for networking too -- doesn't happen as often, but still a good one). What should you do?

Here are some possibilities. Let's say you haven't written anything yet. At this point, you need to make connections to learn from people (hopefully that's why you are reading blogs too). Talk to the author, talk to others who have come to the signing. Find out what their interests are. The basic question you can ask anyone is 'what are you working on?' This is a good place to start. If you've met another newbie, you can swap stories of your attempts to write and maybe you've just found someone who can keep you motivated (like a workout buddy, but a writing buddy). If someone has just finished a script and is looking for feedback, maybe you can (down the line, not the first time meeting them) offer to read the work and offer feedback. Maybe you've met someone who is trying to get an agent. You can learn from this person too. They have an agent? Even better, then you know someone you can talk to about submitting work to agents when the time comes.

Now you talk to the author of the book who is signing things, maybe while getting the autograph on the book you will buy (hey, I didn't say this trip was free) or if you're a cheapskate wait until after the Q&A and try to steal a moment with the person. Usually you can do this unless the author is on a tight schedule. Start with the usual, 'your book sounds great, looking forward to reading it'...oh, you DID read up on the person before you went, right? If you are going to be successful in relationship management, follow Rule Number Two: Know your contact. If the person has credits, know them. This is what Google was made for. Be able to compliment them on something they've done. Bonus points if you take the time to read something else they've written or seen a film they wrote. Again, ask about their latest project besides the book. Trust me, they'll have one. Now you've reached a decision point. It could be that this person won't care about getting your contact information and if the person is pretty well known, he/she could be pretty wary of giving out contact info. No matter, you don't need a phone number/e-mail in hand for this one. After all, you know who their publisher is. And if you do your research you'll find another way to contact them. The key here is to make the connection, have the conversation. You never know when 'I met you at your books signing at Barnes & Noble in April and I really enjoyed your book' might come in handy.

So far, we've presented the first two rules of Relationship Management:

1. Never Lose A Contact
2. Know Your Contact

Next Tuesday we'll get into how to maintain your contacts and make them work for you.


Anonymous said...

what are your feelings on a generic businesscard? should I get one that has my name, email saying Todd Blah Blah (not my real name...it's really Frank Blah Blah) and just Screenwriter or Writer in the middle of the card, and hand them out often? I have been debating this issue lately

Shawna said...


I don't have business cards and I don't know whether they are good or not. I always carry a small notebook with me so I can jot down someone's phone number or e-mail address or scribble mine for them, if requested. I feel like business cards are easily lost, but they could be handy. Anyone else have any thoughts?

The Constipated Writer said...

I've had a good experience with business cards, and a horrific one as well. I met a substantial movie guy and he asked for my card, which thankfully, I had. Nothing ever came of it, but at least I was able to give him what he asked for. However, the one time I offered my card to someone, they laughed at the poor quality of it, and declined to take it. (The guy's an a-hole anyway, but that's besides the point) So, my useless advice is if you're going to have a card, make sure it's not the 500 cards for 4.99 variety. Make damn well sure it's glossy and very professionally done. Like in American Psycho....obsess over it.

John Donald Carlucci said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
John Donald Carlucci said...


This is a very nice article with a professional attitude. Good job!


John Donald Carlucci said...

Check out the Max Adams book "The Screenwriter's Survival Guide : Or, Guerrilla Meeting Tactics and Other Acts of War". This is a great book on how to handle the other stuff once the script is done. Stuff like how not to overdress, what to expect, and how to act.

Spend the money on your cards and stationary. It represents you when you aren't there. Same reason for making your script appear as prof as possible.


Bill Cunningham said...

Two words:

Palm Pilot.

Kid Sis said...

Shawna, this was so helpful Follow up is a weakness of mine. Thanks for the tips!

moses said...

This is great stuff Shawna. I'm guilty of not managing contacts. Probably not the strength of most writers, generally speaking. It's good to get a primer on how to go about it. Looking forward to the next installment.

And business cards, though I don't have any, feel like a good idea to me. As the constipated writer said, at least you'll have something to give if someone asks.