How to Be A Writer Executives Want to Hire

Would you like to know how to get hired as a writer in Hollywood?

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.

How To Be Seen As A Legit Writer

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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Discussion About How to Be A Writer Executives Want to Hire

  1. david

    love it

  2. Brian

    Expertise in screenwriting? One day you’re the expert. The next day you could be a pariah. One day you write the movie of the decade. The next you’re eating humble pie and losing resources.

    Expertise is at best fleeting.

    Uncertainty? Script to script a very good writer will produce something good no matter the genre.

    Perceptions like the ones you’re talking about are obviously from people who haven’t a clue what makes a good writer.

    • Stephanie Palmer

      You make an excellent point that very good writers can write well in multiple genres. In my experience, developing expertise takes time and isn’t fleeting. It takes substantial time and effort to acquire the relevant knowledge about what has and hasn’t been done in a particular genre.

  3. Michelle

    Hi Stephanie,
    Great post. As much as I’m sure you’re spot-on I don’t want to hear this. I’ve written a YA paranormal suspense, a romantic suspense, and a women’s fiction novel. I’m currently writing an inspirational novel based on a true story. I’m all over the place. The one genre I love the most is suspense, so it sounds like I need to stick with that. But creative minds like mine like to write stories that matter–not necessarily in ONLY one genre. But I understand why it’s important to become an expert in only one. Sigh! I will have to ponder this more. Thanks for the advice.
    Michelle, Random Writing Rants

    • Stephanie Palmer

      Hi Michelle,

      I appreciate your candor. Yes, if you love suspense, it makes sense to focus there. Thanks for your comment.

  4. Darren

    Thanks, Stephanie … I really needed to hear this, as I’ve been trying to focus and get going on my next script. I totally appreciate the wealth of resources you’ve made available!!

  5. Perry Hall

    The movie Citizen Kane is most like the Historic story I’m trying to amp up so a young movie goer will be intyerested. Kinda like Lincoln hunting Vampires. There is noone who can tell the Robert Smalls story better than me but I got to have some form that the industry will go for.

  6. Peter Flierl

    This was a wonderful read sent my way by my daughter who works and writes out there in L.A. She thought the concept might apply to my new career path, freelance writing for nonprofits and small businesses and editor of a local online daily.

    My genre, I would guess, is communications and marketing for small businesses with a strong suit in social media.

    Thanks for the article.

  7. Paul Knauer

    How narrow the focus? For example, I have written a sitcom pilot and a spec script for a currently airing sitcom. Yet, I am also currently writing a romantic comedy screenplay. Should I focus only on TV and ditch the movie script? I see myself as a comedy writer, but is that too broad?

    • Stephanie Palmer

      Being a comedy writer is a good start, but I would focus on either TV or film. You don’t have to ditch the feature script, but I would continue building out your development slate with more TV projects. It takes a lot of time to research your genre, work on ideas, network and write your projects. When you are working towards your first sale, it’s better to focus in one area than split your time between features and TV.

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  9. Angelo

    I agree. I think we should be experts in our chosen genres, I think it’s important to note that genres have sub genres and cross-genres. My strength is in thrillers, but that includes dramatic work, fantasy work and even romance. I’ve also applied that strategy to development in TV series

  10. Darren

    Thank you for sending me the link for your article. You had great answers and advice for everyone. I suppose a writer can write in different genres, such as an athlete that can be great at soccer and basketball(Steve Nash). However, I also understand the importance of being an expert in one specific area.
    Great article!

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  15. CD

    Love the post (and your site)!

    To extend the plumber analogy: If all three have equally good recommendations for plumbing work and cost essentially the same, the company to choose in this case is the one that can get there fastest. 😉

    Moral of the story: Put yourself in position to get work and be ready to take advantage of situations offered.

    (Based on the scenario you describe, we could actually make a case for the “handyman”/general services company, but that would just be overanalyzing the great point you already make.)

  16. Fink

    “..we’re gonna put you to work on a wrestling picture.”

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