Recently I was the guest on #scriptchat and I asked the group, “What genre is your project in?” From the answers I received, it was clear that many writers have multiple projects in different genres.
It’s normal to have ideas in more than one genre. Unfortunately, trying to sell projects in different genres can create a serious problem for your career—it makes it difficult for executives to hire you (especially for the first time).
When You Work In Different Genres, You Seem Like A Dilettante (Not An Expert)
For example, I know writers who have a resume that includes projects like: a thriller short posted on YouTube, a reality TV treatment, a director’s reel, an animation portfolio, and a rom-com idea they hope to pitch.
This may surprise you, but having many projects in different genres doesn’t give you a better chance to move up to the next level in your career. Instead, it dilutes your chances for success by making it seem like you lack the key ingredient that makes executives want to hire you: Genre expertise.
The vast majority of writers who get the cherry assignments, lucrative studio rewrite opportunities (and big paydays) have this in common: they are experts in a specific genre.
Now, for many writers, the thought of focusing in a more narrow area isn’t so exciting. So I’d like to take a moment to see if I can persuade you that it’s necessary to build genre expertise to create the results you want in your career.
When You Have to Decide Quickly, You Choose The Expert
Imagine that you come home to find that a pipe has burst and that there is an inch of water on your floor. Unfortunately, the leak is behind a wall, so you can’t just fix it yourself, and the longer the floor is soaked the greater the chance of permanent damage to the house and your furniture. So you have to make a decision quickly.
You check the internet, search for local plumbers, and look at their advertisements. You find three plumbers to consider, all of whom have the same hourly rate and all of whom have positive recommendations posted from former customers.
The first guy’s ad says that he can do a wide variety of things. He’s got experience with plumbing, electrical, carpentry and he’s a general handyman, too. The second guy’s ad says that he can deal with plumbing problems and that he also installs heating and air-conditioning systems. The third guy’s ad says that he specializes in repairing emergency leaks in residential homes and apartments.
Whom do you call?
When It’s Life or Death, You Choose the Expert
As another example, suppose that you are on a wilderness adventure in the Amazon river basin and you get bit by an insect and contract a rapidly progressing disease. You’re deathly ill and you may only have a day or two to live unless you get the right medical attention. You are taken in a canoe to a nearby village, carried on a stretcher to another village, then taken by car over bumpy roads to the local airport.
At this point you are running out of time. You only can fly to one place and see one doctor. There are two well-regarded physicians equally far away: a skilled general practitioner who can do everything from setting a broken bone to surgically removing your appendix, or an infectious disease specialist who focuses on pathogens of the Amazon.
Which doctor do you go see?
When Encountering the Undead…
I think you’re getting this, but just in case…. Suppose you’re living in New York in 1984, and you notice that your bathtub is full of green ectoplasm, and when you touch it with your toilet plunger the ectoplasm leaps up, smashes into you, leaves you covered in green slime, then reforms into a pudgy Casper-like creature who floats over to your refrigerator, knocks it over and starts gobbling everything inside.
Who you gonna call…. Ghostbusters!
In other words, when you or anyone else makes hiring decisions, the top choice is the expert in the area that is important to you.
Why Executives In Hollywood Love Experts
Let’s get back to Hollywood. When an executive considers which writer to hire or what script to purchase, that’s a big decision which puts their reputation on the line (and likely a lot of resources at stake).
The people who can hire you and buy your work look at an unfocused creative resume and think:
- You may be unsure about what you really want to do in the business.
- You may lack the expert knowledge of any particular genre.
- Their valuable time would be better spent looking past you to other writers who are experts.
That’s why there’s a big difference between one writer who does a lot of different things and another writer who specializes in the type of project that’s being considered, has several projects in development/production in that genre, and is clearly an expert.
Expertise Equals Credibility
Ask yourself these questions:
- What genre are most of my projects in?
- In what genre are most of my favorite movies, TV shows, and books?
- If I could only create in one genre for three years, what would it be?
The more you develop expertise in a particular genre, the more confidence decision-makers will have in hiring you or buying your work.
And getting hired to do what you love—that’s exciting.
Point the compass for your creative career in one direction—towards your expertise. [Tweet this]
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