On Authors, Actors, and Agents

One of my best friends is an actor.  You’ve probably seen her in something, but you probably don’t know it.  She’s been prominently featured on Law and Order and a couple of its acronym-oriented spin-offs, Damages, White Collar, Rescue Me, Gossip Girl, Mercy, Kings, and other television programs, and been in in a few television commercials and several movies.  If you go see “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” or “The Smurfs,” you’re going to see her.  Yet she’s never had her name in the credits – because my friend mostly works as an extra (in industry jargon, “background,”) and she’s still trying to get a good agent.

Now and then we have a few beers and compare notes on searching for representation in different fields.

  • I have a bachelor’s degree in writing; she has one in musical theater.
  • I spent ten years writing, revising, polishing, and rewriting the novel I’ve been shopping around; she did years of summer stock theater, working as a chambermaid or making props by hand in between performances, to build up a marketable resume.
  • I mail out query letters, sample chapters and synopses, and have been quietly building up a collection of almost fifty very polite rejection slips; she mails out hundreds of headshots and resumes, and hears nothing back from most talent agents.
  • I spend hours every day slaving over my next novel, carving out time around my day job at considerable cost to my social life; she spends hours every day running, working out, tanning, and otherwise keeping her appearance marketable.
  • I comb through online listings like QueryTracker.net and AgentQuery.com in search of agents who haven’t yet rejected me; she spends hours reviewing listings on the web for available background gigs while she tries for her big break.
  • Potential best-case scenario for me: several best-selling novels, film deals, and many millions of dollars; potential best-case scenario for her: starring in several top-grossing movies, and many millions of dollars.
  • Odds that either of us attains that best-case scenario: one in a number best expressed with scientific notation.

Now, here’s where there are major differences:

  • I am 31 years old, and if I were to be published today I’d be relatively young for my industry.  She is considerably younger than me, but she is acutely aware that she’s running short on time.
  • To have any hope of succeeding in her industry, she had to move to New York – though she could have chosen Los Angeles.  Remaining comfortably in Philadelphia is in no way detrimental to my cause.
  • Working background means working very odd hours that may start and end at any point on the 24-hour clock.  It’s almost impossible to have a day job.  I set my own writing hours, and I am fortunate to have a day job that I am passionate about and that pays pretty well.

So what’s my point?  For me, it’s a reminder that we aspiring authors are not the only folks who need to jump through all sorts of hoops, and invest tremendous time and energy, in a frustrating career quest that may never bear fruit.  Compared to some, in fact, we have it easy.

I also recommend that aspiring writers have friends who are aspiring actors, and that the aspiring writer pay for the drinks.

By the way, my friend has a blog of her own, where she posts about the adventurous life of a starving actor and sometimes-model.  You should check it out – her stories are more interesting than mine, and she looks a lot better in a bikini.

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Chris
Chris is an author, artist, personal trainer, and long-time nonprofit fundraiser. His work has appeared in The Nib, GOOD, the Huffington Post, Salon, MTV, and numerous other publications. Chris lives in New York City.

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