Writing Samples and Self Promotion

writing samples

Today we have a reader question about writing samples and portfolios.

Melanie writes:

Hi! Thanks for your site, love the resource and your writing style! I am an aspiring television writer currently working as a PA. Just wanted to get your feedback on creating a portfolio of writing samples, and if this is something I should be putting together. I have a few scripts in the works, but I am intimidated with all of the options for self promotion, including all the social media outlets, blogs, etc… Should I be heavily marketing myself this way? I’ve looked at Portfolio Box to possibly present different aspects of my creativity (photography, writing, editing) and thought that may be a good option.

In your opinion, how can I put myself out there more? PAing is definitely giving me more experience on sets, but I still feel like I am on the “outside” of the creative side. I haven’t met many people that are interested in writing comedy but I am moving to Atlanta (where I am originally from) in a few months and I am planning to take some workshops/maybe try stand up to be around comedians…

Now I am on a tangent, but any thoughts on my scenario will at least make me feel a little bit more validated in my hurry up and wait lifestyle in this industry… it’s nice to hear from someone motivated to do the same thing! Thanks for listening!

Thanks for the kind words! Now down to business…

The answer to your first question is, yes, you should be creating a “portfolio” of writing samples.

You should always be writing and generating new material. With every script you write, you get a little better. And no one is ever going to contemplate hiring you if you don’t have a finished writing sample to show. Always consider your best and latest script as your “writing sample.” But keep your old scripts in your back pocket, because they may come in handy down the line…

It’s good to have different writing samples for different types of shows.

If and when you get representation, your agent or manager will send your samples out for staffing consideration. What sample they send out depends on what type of show you’re trying to staff on. For comedy, it may be good to have a “network” comedy sample and a “cable” comedy sample. Or a “single cam” comedy sample and a “multi-cam” comedy sample. Maybe have something that would air on HBO and another sample that would air on ABC.

For me, being an hour-long drama writer, I have a cop show set in present day. I have a paranormal sci-fi sample. I also have a couple of historical drama samples. Obviously, a rep wouldn’t send my historical drama sample to try and get me a job on a cop show, but for that, they can use my cop show sample. Etc…

On Self Promotion

I’m not familiar with Portfolio Box, so I can not speak to that service, but in general, I firmly believe the best self-promotion you can get is personal connections with people who work in the TV industry. Those are the contacts that are going to help you get the job. So when you DO have a strong writing sample, you have people you can email who will read it, and possibly help you get representation or a meeting with a showrunner about a staff job. Or they could help you get in touch with someone who may want to develop your pilot with you.

Keep in mind; it’s easy for a new writer to get too bogged down with “how to be a writer” or “how to self-promote” when all you should be doing is writing. You said you have a few ideas “in the works.” Write those scripts. Stop worrying about how to self-promote and finish those scripts. Everything else is procrastination. Write. Write. Write.  Then, when you’ve made the right industry connections, get that fantastic script into someone’s hands who can help you.

On Being a Production Assistant

I, like you, started off as a set production assistant. It’s an excellent place to start, but it’s not where you want to be if you desire to write for TV. That is unless you can somehow chat up the writers and producers on set without the AD breathing down your neck. (You can’t)

I would highly suggest trying to move your way into an office production assistant position, or even better, a writers’ assistant position (easier said than done.) That is what I did, and that is how I started to meet the writers and producers who eventually hired me on as their assistants. Which, in turn, gave me the contacts I needed to get my first TV writing job. But this leads to my next point, which you’re probably not going to like…

On Moving to Atlanta

If you want to write in television, you need to be in Los Angeles. All the writers’ rooms are in Los Angeles. All the writers are in Los Angeles. All the agents and managers are in Los Angeles. There may be a couple of shows who write out of Atlanta, but I don’t personally know of any. Even the writers’ room for the show “Atlanta” is probably in Los Angeles. (I may be wrong… but I’m probably right.) Now, I’m not sure if you’re moving from Los Angeles to Atlanta… if you are, I would maybe rethink that strategy. If you’re moving from somewhere else to Atlanta, I would very much think of Atlanta as a stepping stone to get to LA. Keep your eye on the prize.

I hope that answers your questions about writing samples. Also check out my article on HOW TO BECOME A TELEVISION WRITER.

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