It can take a number of years from beginning to write a novel to seeing an advance from a publisher, not to mention the uncertainty in between of submitting to agents and publishers and waiting for that elusive acceptance. It’s a process that we all have to go through, and for most of the time, you simply have to put it out of your mind, and keep writing.
There are ways to make some extra money from your ability to write fiction while you’re waiting, and to supplement your eventual advances and royalties (which sometimes aren’t much). One of the simplest ways is to write short stories and sell them to magazines. Unfortunately, after novel writing and entering contests, this is probably the third lowest paying activity in terms of income value for the amount of work you need to put into it. And while contests offer prestige, the odds of winning are often only slightly better than the lottery.
So who needs fiction, and is willing to pay for it? The answer is television. We devour hours of it, and watch the fictional goings on of series after series. Some of them stay for years, other shows die quietly after a few episodes, but all of them need writers to create the scenes, characters, and dialogue that keeps us hooked.
Most shows employ staff writers, and jobs like these are hardly ever advertised. But some television studios do employ freelance writers and editors, for those times when they need last minute additions or changes, or just a relief writer for one going on leave. If you’ve written for the screen before and have clips, send them along to the Human Resources department with a cover letter indicating that you’re available for freelance work. If you can work at short notice, say so. If you have unusual knowledge, such as a medical or police background, let them know.
If you don’t have clips, create a sample of what you can do. Start with your favourite show or soap and invent a few new characters. Write a scene around these characters, tailoring the style and themes to the particular show you’ve chosen – but keep the details non-specific to that show. In other words, the producers should recognise their show’s themes in your writing, but it shouldn’t be written with the presumption that it will be used for that show. Fan fiction is frowned on by many in the industry, so make your work stand out as original and unique, but make your writing look like it will fit well into the show’s style.
Search for the websites of the television studios that make your favourite shows. Search for submission guidelines if they have them, or look for their employment section. Some of them may have clear instructions for freelancers, while others may require a bit more digging. Give their Human Resources department a call if you’re unsure of what they require from you.
This article was first published on BellaOnline in October 2006. © Elsa Neal
For more ideas on branching out in your writing career try these books:
Successful Television Writing by Lee Goldberg, William Rabkin
Writing the TV Drama Series : How to Succeed as a Professional Writer in TV by Pamela Douglas
Starting Your Television Writing Career : The Warner Bros. Television Writers Workshop Guide by Abby Finer, Deborah Pearlman