To which I say: Ha!
I say that because I never had any inside connections to get started in writing. I am a college dropout with no writing-industry connections.
How did I break into writing? One word: contests. Two contests I entered early on in my writing career really set me on my way.
The first was for the Los Angeles Weekly. It was their 10th anniversary and they held an essay contest looking for stories about the past decade in L.A. Well, I had moved back to L.A. after dropping out of college exactly a decade before, and it was like they designed the contest just for me. As I recall, they paid me $200 as one of several winning entrants.
To say that this changed my life would not be an exaggeration. I was at that time a starving songwriter, paying to four-wall dives on Hollywood Blvd. A kind of writing they pay YOU for? I was hooked.
My second contest was held by the Los Angeles Times real estate section. They were soliciting tales of do-it-yourself home improvement. Since my husband and I had been fixing up our hovel-house for years, making tons of lame mistakes along the way, once again it was a contest tailor-made for me.
Even better than winning contests and earning a few hundred dollars, each of these wins led me to long-term relationships with editors I wrote for for years afterwards. The L.A. Weekly and I didn’t hit it off so well, but the few pieces I wrote there allowed me to transition over to their rival at the time, the L.A. Reader. I wrote for them for years, including cover features (paid $300! a fortune to me at the time).
The editor of the real estate section also wanted me to write for him. I wrote section covers for him for years, until I moved away from L.A. That’s right, about 8 months into starting to dabble in freelance writing, I was writing for one of the largest newspapers in the country! Contests can really save you a lot of slogging up the food chain in writing and get your work in front of influential editors.
Three pieces of advice specific to Carolyn’s situation and how to break in with a screenplay.
One: Surprise! It’s contests. A search of my online-supported Writer’s Market reveals roughly 100 screenplay contests. There’s about another 100 for playwrights. Look through those, Carolyn, and find contests you’re right for, and enter! It can open a lot of doors — sure did for me.
Two: As a former entertainment-industry legal secretary, I can tell you that many studios and agents look at unsolicited scripts. They’re always hoping to find that out-of-left-field hit from somebody new. Or they have professional readers look at them and give them a quick sense of whether they’re any good. Study the industry and find people who might give your script a look. They’re out there.
Three: Social media. There’s really never been an easier time to connect with people than right now. Search Twitter or LinkedIn for “script producer” or other key words for your industry, and try to connect with some of those people online. Some will refuse, but some won’t. Join online forums for newbie screenwriters and learn from your peers. Doing a quick search, I see LinkedIn has one called Screenwriters Network Worldwide.
To sum up: get out there, write, find contests, submit, network, and don’t let anybody stop you!