How long does it take to become a screenwriter? 12 months? Three years? Indeed, there are no concrete guidelines for breaking into the screenwriting world or becoming a William Goldman.
But insiders agree that it takes more than good writing skills to get succeed.
According to screenwriter Stephen Davis, aspiring writers should, “… have a stellar script in hand and be prepared to spend three to five years trying to get a break.”
Waiting three to five years implies that you’ll need networking skills, persistence, and perhaps, industry knowledge too. These aren’t skills that can be learned in a classroom. It might take three or seven years to grasp all of them before breaking into the industry.
But during that period, you’ll need to eat, go on vacation, buy a nice car, and probably even get married. You’ll need a side gig to pay the bills.
That’s why I recommend becoming a part-time freelance speechwriter. The market for speechwriters is lucrative, easier than Hollywood to break into, and will leave you plenty of time to improve your screenwriting.
What is Speechwriting?
Speechwriting is the act of writing a speech.
Every day, hundreds of ghostwritten speeches are delivered across the world by corporate executives, politicians, business speakers, and ordinary people. Many of these speeches are written by freelance writers.
Benefits of becoming a part-time freelance Speechwriter
Every speechwriting project is unique.
Some speeches take hours to write while others require weeks. And some demand intensive research while others don’t.
Despite these differences, there are common benefits that all freelance speechwriters enjoy.
- It’s lucrative:
While beginners can earn more than $2000 per speech, established writers easily attract $7,000.
But there are no fixed prices for speeches.
Before setting rates, interact with local speechwriters and scour through blogs to discover what others are currently charging. Ensure that your fees are competitive.
- It’s flexible and secure:
As a freelance speechwriter, you’ll be self-employed. This means you’ll have the time to improve your screenplay while making good money through speeches.
- It’s easier to set up:
Unlike screenwriting, it doesn’t take three or five years to find speechwriting clients. If you’re persistent, it should take less than a year to build a stable client list.
How to become a well paid Speechwriter
- Beef up your skills:
If you don’t know how to write a good speech, invest a few hours every day to learn the craft.
My favorite book on the subject is Simon Lancaster’s “Speechwriting: The Expert Guide.” Lancaster’s book helps you think like a pro from the first chapter. It’s freely accessible to new Scribd users for the first thirty days.
You can also study great speeches on YouTube, read speechwriting blogs, and join online courses on the subject.
But this stage won’t be difficult for you. Many aspiring screenwriters already possess speechwriting skills – writing, research, interviewing, and storytelling.
- Get samples:
Most clients won’t hire writers without relevant experience. But you don’t have to work for five years to improve your appeal. All you need are three samples of your speeches. This should take a few weeks to achieve.
- Contact colleagues and family members who own businesses. Ask them to give a speech in their next staff or investor meeting. Propose to write the speech for free.
- Contact professionals and entrepreneurs who host online courses and seminars. Offer to write or review their speeches for free. Collect their testimonials when you’re done.
- Write birthday and anniversary speeches for relatives, neighbors, and friends.
Once they approve your speech, collect a testimonial from them. It’ll boost your marketing efforts later.
And ensure that you don’t spend too much time working for free. Three samples are enough to convince a client that you’re a reliable professional.
- Get an online portfolio:
Once you’ve got three samples, put them online. Here are three ways that you can do this:
- Use LinkedIn: This social network isn’t just a great platform for finding clients, it also enables speechwriters to display their writing for free.
- Use a website: A website makes you look professional. It shows prospects that you’re serious and reliable. I recommend using WordPress or Wix to build your site.
- Use an online portfolio service: Most portfolios aren’t as customizable as websites but they’re great for displaying your samples online. I currently use the premium version of Journo portfolio which is highly customizable, costs just $13 monthly, and has helped me triple my client base in the last four months.
Online portfolios speed up the client acquisition process. Don’t skip this step.
- Find clients:
There is a big market for speechwriters in the business, politics, and nonprofit sectors. Also, wealthy individuals hire writers to create speeches for big family events.
If you want to write for business clients, like CEOs, reach out to the Vice President of Corporate Communications or the Corporate communications director. These executives are usually responsible for creating speeches or hiring freelance speechwriters.
If you’re targeting the political and nonprofit sectors, reach out to professionals with similar titles.
Finally, if you wish to write for wealthy individuals, contact them directly or through their assistants.
You can contact clients through:
- Networking: Attend the conferences, seminars, workshops, and events where they hang out. Tell them what you do without being pushy. Be consistent. Leverage social networks like LinkedIn and Facebook.
- Cold Pitching: Introduce yourself to unfamiliar prospects through email, direct mail, and phone. Use software like LeadIQ, Hunter, Find That Lead, and Lusha to find the relevant information that you need.
- Warm Pitching: You can also reach out to people that you know. Someone in your circle might be a source of writing gigs. If you know a CEO, public speaker, or entrepreneur, call them now.
Finally, improve your ability to find speechwriting clients by attending good courses, visiting blogs, and reading books.