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.