My brother is a born salesman, he’s constantly rising the corporate ladder of whatever fill-in-the-blank company he’s currently working for. He quits one job, immediately gets a new higher paying one. He started a coffee shop from scratch, only to turn around and sell it six months later. He’s one part Gordon Gecko, one part Patrick Bateman.
If “born salesman” is at one end of the spectrum, then “starving artist” as at the other. One look at my bank account, and I’ll let you guess where I land (usually in the negative).
I have a theory for this. I believe that creatives usually have some kind of pain in their past, and as a result disappeared into their imaginations to deal with it. This is certainly true of myself. And while this has led to a rather creative & talented mind, it’s also led to a terribly shy, somewhat bumbling personality. If you’re anything like my brother, then this essay is not for you.
For us creatives, the problem is that if we ever want to be successful (read: pay our rent) then we have to be salesmen. We have to master self-promotion. Here is my 4-step process to doing so.
1. Get out of your comfort zone.
I would much rather sit at home typing safely into my computer than put myself out in the real world. The real world is harsh. Rejection is personal. Technology provides us with a buffer of safety. You don’t have to look in the eyes of someone who is telling you your life-long dream is a terrible idea (there’s also nothing more satisfying than looking into the eyes of someone who “gets it.”) But in the world of writing, at least in film or comics, it is extremely hard (if not impossible) to “break-in” from behind your computer.
In the past month I’ve gone to two events – Nashville Screenwriting Conference in Tennessee and HeroesCon in North Carolina. Both provided me with experiences and contacts that would never be made sitting at home. I personally believe that you don’t have to move to a new city to follow your dreams (some professionals disagree with me), but I do believe you have to at least travel to where others in your industry are from time to time. Both comics & film are about relationships. Talent takes you a long way, but nothing replaces relationships.
2. Look them in the eye.
Craig Mazin, the screenwriter behind Hangover 2, told a story at the Nashville Screenwriting Conference about an anonymous writer who slid a letter under his hotel room door. In the letter, the author introduced herself and stated that she had left her script for Craig to read at the first desk. Craig said that this person made the wrong decision and he refused to read the script.
This was of course an awkward story as the author was sitting in the room, but it was a very important lesson. If you want to make it, you have to have the guts to put yourself out there. Nothing replaces a handshake. Nothing replaces looking someone in the eye. Craig will forever know this writer as the writer too afraid to face him in person. Would he have read it if they did talk to him in person? Maybe not, but they would have at least had the opportunity to make a good first impression.
3. Sell a personality.
Great stories are about great characters. The first ten minutes of a film should set up your character so that the audience falls in love with them, so they are invested in that character’s plight for the next 90 minutes. No matter how great the plot is, if the character’s aren’t worth investing in, the story suffers. The same applies to your career. You could have a great plot (written ten screenplays, shot a bunch of shorts, created a 1000 page graphic novel) but if the powers-that-be are not interested in YOU, then they won’t be interested in your art. (And by powers-that-be I mean the gatekeeepers: agents, publishers, pros, managers, producers, investors, etc.)
If you stay behind your computer screen, you are nothing but a product. A faceless, personality-lacking, dime-a-dozen drone. Your greatest product is yourself. Get out and sell you. BUT your first goal should not be to “sell them.” Just like a bad salesman, the gatekeepers can see you coming a mile away. Don’t be the telemarketer.
I don’t know much about sales, but this sounds like something they would say: “You have to earn someone’s trust before you can sell to them.” The key is trust. The key is friendships. If you come up to someone and immediately start in with your pitch, they never get a chance to know your personality, only your product.
4. It’s a date.
Practically speaking, how do you “sell yourself?” Well, think of it as a date. What’s the worst thing you can do on a first date? Talk all about yourself. The key to getting that second date is asking questions (and to actually be interested in the answers). Getting to know the person sitting across from you. If it’s a good date, they’ll be interested in you as well, and that will hopefully lead to a second “date” where you can talk more about your career and goals. And if they aren’t, then you politely move on to the next suitor.
The thing is, in the grand scheme of things, these friendships are going to be more important than whatever career you have anyway. The friendships I’ve made in the industry, I wouldn’t trade for anything, not even “success.” Life is ultimately about relationships – the people we bump into while we’re busy living life. Those are the moments that really matter.
In the opening paragraph I made my brother out to be this superhero, but the truth is his success lies in the same principles I’m discussing here. This was made clear to me when he recently shared his definition for success, quoting Sir Winston Churchill: “Success is the ability to go from one failure to another with no loss of enthusiasm.”
- Just like dating, you’re going to have some bad ones. You’re going to get hurt. You’re going to be beat down and disappointed. You’re going to fail a lot. But if you keep at it, you will find what you’re looking for.