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In It For The Money?

You’ve probably seen Piers’ post about using paid-for readers. If you haven’t read it, here’s a quick precis of it – don’t use them. Why? Well, you can you get feedback for free with the likes of Po3, peer review, BBC Writersroom, Triggerstreet, joining or forming writers’ groups. Also, at the heart of the matter for Piers, because paid-for readers want your custom back, is the thought you’re never going to be told you’re that bad, but you’re never going to be told you’re that good, either.

In the interest of balance, I thought I’d offer a few counter points – and not because I’m just a paid-for reader myself. I’ve been the reader *someone else* pays for, rather than the writer – in fact, for a couple of places I read for, I still am. I’ve even been the reader NO ONE pays for – writer or employer – because I’ve been the work experience girl.

Well first off: paid-for readers do want custom: of course they do. It’s their job, they have to make a living, pay the rent, feed the kids, put fuel in the car. They’re just people – no different to the writers, directors, producers, editors, or whoever else goes into this collaborative medium. Yet the notion does appear to persist that people charging for script reading services are somehow piggy-backing on more “respectable” areas of scriptwriting, trying to make a fast buck. Why are script readers’ expertise somehow worth less? Of course, there are charlatans out there. But most readers are simply scraping by, the same as everyone else. They’re certainly not getting rich and rubbing their hands with glee.

Secondly, a good reader will always advocate peer review via websites like Triggerstreet or the likes of Po3. In fact, I’d like to echo Piers’ point wholeheartedly here: why pay for feedback, when you can get it for free? What’s more, it’s a great way of making contacts and creating relationships between writers and hopefully eventually directors and producers too – bonus.

However, it’s just as important to remember not everyone looks at feedback the same way. For some writers, just getting the time to get the words down on paper is an achievement in itself due to family or work commitments: they hate the thought of peer review, of “owing” feedback to anyone – it’s added stress, so instead they prefer to pay for feedback and then it’s all done and dusted. What’s more, these busy people may just not have time to create their own writers’ group or even attend one, especially if there are children in their lives. For others, they may have had a bad experience with peer review, so would rather not bother worrying about offending anyone, or again having to “owe” anyone. For some, it’s just a case of good old fashioned personal preference: I know writers who would rather poke their eyes out than attend or form a writers’ circle (these aren’t wallflower newbies either, but highly successful writers, so it’s no good saying they *should* otherwise they won’t do well in the industry: they do.)

Targetting writers at the same level as yourself for feedback is a good tactic, but can only take you so far. Whilst a writer who works in the media and/or film industry might already have access to peers who know exactly what’s hot and what’s not, there’s just as many people who write who don’t. Sometimes these writers will want to pay for a reader who does nothing but read scripts so they can have access to what those people who already work in the industry might have for free.

What’s more, I don’t believe non-paid-for readers, those readers someone else pays for, are more objective about your script. In fact, sometimes I think they can be more prone to being judgemental and make more sweeping statements without justification because they don’t have to be accountable in the same way as a paid-for reader. With a paid-for reader, you know who they are, they have to “face” you, even if only via email and deliver what might sometimes be unpalatable news. And they do tell you things are “bad” (I prefer the term “need more work” or “development” if I’m honest) about your script.

Yes, script readers have certain biases on content or on technique – on this blog I’ve never made any secret of that: I hate rape scenes and love structure, anyone? – but guess what: those non-paid-for readers have those same biases, you just don’t know what theirs are. You also have no clue who they are, what they are like as a person and whether they’ve slated your script because it’s really “bad” – or because they were in a foul mood. Instead, all you have is a sour taste in your mouth and a feeling of impotence ‘cos you can’t even query it. With a paid-for reader, if you’re really confused about certain notes or need clairfication, you can email them and ask. A good paid-for reader will encourage this, even.

As for readers not telling you’re *that* good or *bad* though– well. I can’t speak for anyone else, but here’s what happens with me.

As anyone who has used my service knows, the very first thing I do at the start of development notes or reports is say what I like and think is working in a draft. Yes, sometimes I do have to dig deep – but I have never lied. I’ve told Bang2writers I think they are good (for what it’s worth: I am just one reader) -and with many I’ve followed their efforts on the circuit with real interest, either because they’ve started blogs or because I’ve encouraged them to keep in touch. With a small number, I’ve passed their details on to directors who have asked me to recommend someone, particularly shorts. I’ve also suggested certain scripts don’t need more feedback – but if the writer concerned wants to send me another “newer” work instead, that’s fine with me (what?? I do need to earn a crust, remember).

Piers is right about readers not telling clients they’re bad though: I would never tell someone they are a bad writer (and never have, not even when I was a non-paid-for/completely free reader).

Why? I’ve always believed this: who the hell is anyone to tell you your script is bad and you should give up writing, whether they are a paid-for reader or a non-paid-for reader? As I pose in this post, how is that helpful? Okay, we all have our opinions on who and what is “good” and “bad” – but guess what, this changes person to person. What’s more, I’ve seen writers over the years transform their scripts and even their writing styles from veritable ugly ducklings into beautiful swans – I really have! That’s one of the cool things about creativity: anything can happen. Why would anyone want to shove the lid on top of someone’s ability (or supposed lack of) and declare it’s BEYOND HOPE? It makes no sense to me.

End of the day, it boils down to this: if you’re cynical about paid-for readers, you’re best off not using them. But if you *feel* they can help you? They probably can.

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32 thoughts on “In It For The Money?”

  1. Hi Lucy, I was very surprised at the content of Piers’ blog – I did wonder if he was being deliberately provocative.

    I am 100% in agreement with you when it comes to readers.

    (As for telling someone to forget the idea of being a scriptwriter – well, I said I would on Piers’ blog’s comments, but in truth I’d probably advise a route for improvement like: learn English grammar first, then re-write.)

  2. Piers be deliberately provocative?? Surely not ; ) Hell, a bit of controversy does us all good.

    Like I say in the post, if people think paid-for readers won’t help them, then it’s no good using them. Free feedback is obviously fantastic, but often we have to wait a long time to get it. The Writersroom have had my scripts up to eight months before now and for a lot of people, time is of the essence.

    Also, just as many don’t feel they can insist free/Po3 readers hurry up. I have this problem at the mo -a friend of mine has one of my scripts and I am DYING to hear what he thinks. But I also know he’s really busy.

  3. When I finished my first feature, I paid Lucy to give me feedback. Why?

    – Because I follow her blog and agree with a lot (but not all!) of what she writes.
    – Because I wanted feedback from someone who I don’t know and who is likely to be more objective than a friend.
    – Because Lucy represents the “paid reader” that my script will be assessed by

    In addition to sending my script to Lucy, I also got two other people to read it. The first, is a friend who is an unproduced writer like myself, the other, an acquaintance who I met through chance, is an ex-TV writer/script editor who generously offered his time.

    My “amateur” friend’s comments were useful but only addressed superficial elements of the script. Whereas Lucy and the ex-TV writer both gave me the same excellent suggestions for much more major, structural changes that really helped sharpen the script up.

    I would not agree that you should not pay for feedback. However, I would caution that you research who you are going to pay for feedback first.

    I believe that if you want to succeed in ANY FIELD then you need to make a serious investment – most importantly of time, but also to a lesser degree, of money. If you don’t then you are simply creating obstacles in your own path.

    And to finish with a suitably financial quip…. this of course, is just my tuppence worth! 🙂


  4. Hi Frank A, thanks for commenting.

    Good point on “speculating to accumulate”: I feel the same way. A lot of people imagine script readers never pay for reads themselves – can’t speak for others, but I do. In fact, I’ve used Scott The Reader more times than I care to remember (oo er). And I’ve paid every single time. He’s a professional, he gives great notes. If you don’t know him, check him out here:

  5. I can’t deal with discussions in two different places (although apparently I deal with discussions in two different identities). My last comment was at Piers place.

  6. If notes on a script, paid for or not, just said ‘it’s great, no work needed’ or ‘it’s terrible, give up’ they would just be bad notes. I know from reading other people’s scripts that even if I love a script I’ll still mention areas the writer could work on as well as the things I like – otherwise there’s no point. I am speaking from the point of view of a cheapskate who is lucky enough to know a handful of people who give really excellent notes for free, but I can certainly see the advantages of paying for feedback and am considering doing so in the future.

  7. Thanks Drac – will check it out.

    CR – damn straight. I can’t imagine a script reader or editor ever getting work anywhere if they just said stuff was “crap” or “brilliant”!

  8. Yes – but your point works on the basis that paid-for readers’ more lengthy insights than “it’s crap” or “it’s brilliant” don’t actually help writers. When they do.

  9. Gonna sound thick now, but don’t get this at all. Why is Piers saying it is a good thing for readers to give crap feedback like “it’s crap” or “it’s brilliant”? How can anyone want that? Am I missing something?

  10. Anya, way I understand it, Piers doesn’t WANT that kind of feedback, he’s saying paid-for readers always leave feedback in “reserve” if you like so they can get you to come back to them for more feedback and keep the cycle going, thus parting you with more and more cash. So in essence they don’t tell you the “whole truth” about your work, if you will – so are not to be trusted in terms of objectivity.

  11. Pretty much.

    I’m saying that if you pay directly for feedback, then it is in a reader’s best interest, financially, for them to neither praise the best work to its fullest extent, nor dismiss the worst work to its fullest extent.

    Feedback which you don’t personally pay for doesn’t have that problem.

  12. Anya – Not necessarily, though some do. As I’m always keen to point out, I can’t speak for other readers, but whenever I give notes, it’s always on what I see in front of me on the basis I won’t get it back again. Whatever needs work, I’ll say. And no script, even ones I totally love, are perfect. How can they be? Therefore saying something is “brilliant” is out of the question. And as I say in the post, I would never tell anyone they are crap because who am I to be judge, jury and executioner?

    I think the most I’ve ever read the one script for a private client is about 5 times. That’s unusual though. I quite often read a draft twice – though usually many months apart. I got a draft I first read back in 2005 the other day.

    Piers – I wouldn’t say it was a “problem”, though *if* it is, then the obvious problem associated with non-paid-for readers is their propensity to be callous with people’s dreams. We’ve all heard of people put off writing by anonymous and vitriolic readers who think they know everything.

    It seems to me you are still working on the basis readers are in it for the money, first and foremost. What about actually wanting to help people achieve the best draft they possibly can? Is that really so hard to believe?

  13. As an Engineer I learnt you can NEVER check your own work. You will just repeat your mistakes. You have to have someone else look at it. So you do need feedback from someone.

    Personally I use PO3 (or even PO7 when I’m feeling very insecure) and then follow it up with paid-for feedback.

    Doing the PO3 knocks out the obvious stuff so when you get professional feedback the script is at a point where you can go as far as you can without it.

    The professional reader can then concentrate on what will catch another reader’s eye.

    So who do I go to? Well the PO3 are all writers/director at different levels met through the scribosphere or courses. They are people I know I can trust when they say something is good or painfully bad. I am also happy to be one of their PO3 in turn.

    Trust is also important with a professional reader. I want someone who tells me what they think, even if it isn’t always what I’d hoped to hear. Also that it is said in a constructive way. Getting feedback that says “This is rubbish” is a waste of money. Getting feedback that says “This is rubbish because…” is worthwhile.

    Hence I use yourself. (OK crawling bit over). Though I don’t think you’ve described any of my stuff as rubbish….yet.

    Oh and Writersroom comes after that.I think of it like a production company submission.

  14. Piers – you’ve lost me now. Was that addendum for your comment or mine?

    Rach – I’ve never said anyone’s “rubbish” you bugger, though go write more scripts! NOW!

  15. Well I’ve been thinking about this and have decided it’s all about preference, because anyone who does the job properly will get asked again. That’s whether you are paid or not. I mean presumably there are people out there who offer crap free feedback too. You’re not going to go back just because it’s free are you?

  16. OK, if we are being deliberately provocative, here’s my deliberately provocative take: if you are paying someone to guide you through your own script, then you are probably not a very good writer, and it is probably not a very good script.

    There are plenty of people who are more than happy to give you notes, suggestions, meetings and feedback on a good script, and not only do you not have pay them, but they might even consider paying you. These people are called producers, script editors, commissioners, agents etc, and they all have something to offer which the freelance script reader does not – opportunity.

    Send them a great script and they will be all over it. They don’t even mind a good script with raw beginner’s mistakes. Writers might obsess about typefaces and font sizes and layout, but I’ve never known a producer to be bothered by any of it. (They’ll only get their secretaries to amend it to “house-style” if its necessary).

    Producers always tell us they’re after writers with vision, voice and ideas. Strong characters. Spark and spunk. You can’t learn any of that from a reader’s notes. All they offer is one opinion.

    And – hang on a second – but if you’re a good writer with a good script, then how much more valid is this reader’s opinion than your own? What is his experience and authority? I might take notice of the opinion and experience of a hot professional writer I admire, but if he’s such a hot professional writer, will he be reading specs for fity quid a pop on the internet? And if he doesn’t have much of a CV, why does his opinion count more than my opinion, given that it’s my script, that I know inside-out (including all untaken paths, rewritten plotlines, possible other versions)?

    Which is not, of course, to say that the writer is never wrong, or a script can’t be made better. But a major part of the writer’s job is to identify what’s wrong in his/her script and put it right. You’re actually struggling that with every keystroke you type, all the time you are writing. So don’t go through all the burden of that, and then leave the easy bit – checking it through after a draft – to some external source.
    Put your script in a drawer for week – the flaws will leap out at you.

    OK, OK, I am partly playing devil’s advocate, and I am after all, just some other opinionated voice on the internet, and so busy and successful myself that I am sqeezed twenty minutes out of my day in typing my response on this blog. My opinion is just an opinion. My credentials may hold no more weight than your own. But that’s kind of the point. And I’m not charging you a penny for my advice.

  17. Bingethink – ah, so we’re back to the old chestnut of “if you can’t see your own mistakes, then you must be shit” argument. There will always be missed opportunities – even the best professional writer is too close to their work to write perfection first time – or even second, third, fourth, fifth etc. So is the pro writer then going to get free feedback – or are they going to pay for it? Well that’s up to them. But they need feedback, just like anyone else.

  18. “As an Engineer I learnt you can NEVER check your own work. You will just repeat your mistakes.”

    Total tangent but do you know that this point here is exactly the problem I had with plot elements in the film Sunshine?

    You can carry on now.

    (Slight addendum: the same can be said for IT developers. You should always get someone else to test code that you’ve written.)

  19. I don’t know anything about engineering or IT development. But this does raise an interesting issue. I always thought before, like Piers seems to, that when one becomes a pro writer, suddenly you can see your own mistakes or missed opportunities as if they become illuminous. However, having read for pro writers, they have all the same missed opportunities in their plots and worries about stuff as everyone else. One thing I have noticed, especially recently, is telly writers are always really big on character above all else, whereas prominently film pros seem to favour structure over character. Really, really interesting.

    But anyway, I’m going off the point: pro writers still want to be sure of their own speculative stuff before they show it to people. Why wouldn’t they?

  20. How can having one other paid opinion make you more sure of the quality of my work?

    If I write Character X so she’s a little mysterious, and the reader says he finds it hard to get a handle on her because she’s a bit underwritten, one or other of our instincts is wrong (in which case, I would back mine), or we simply have a different take or feel on what the effect is supposed to achieve (in which case, I would back mine)!

  21. That’s exactly what I said in the post though BT – if you’re cynical about readers, you’re not going to see their benefit are you?

    Now I could argue ’til I’m blue in the face about why I think they’re beneficial myself and cite all kinds of recommendations I’ve got from my clients, new and professional, but if you think what I do and others like me do is pointless, I’m not going to change your mind in the length of time it takes to write a blog comment.

    And anyway, you’re entitled to your opinion… Even if you’re wrong ; )

  22. If Neil Gaiman can get advice from Terry Pratchett about a character (or was it plot point – I forget and am not about to look up the blog post he spoke about it in) that he’s having problems with then I’m fairly certain that it’s pretty safe to say even professional and highly experienced writers sometimes find feedback useful too. For sure they don’t necessarily need to go to script readers as they’ve already got editors and the rest to do it for them but the point is that they still find feedback useful and relevant.

  23. That’s exactly what I said in the post though BT – if you’re cynical about readers, you’re not going to see their benefit are you?

    That makes script reading sound a bit too close to faith-healing to me!

    (I’m not cynical – I’m sceptical. There’s a difference!)

  24. Faith healing… Lol. Yes, maybe “cynical” is a bit strong: “disparaging of the motives of others”. Skeptical -“showing doubt”.

    As a great philosopher once said to me though BT, “How do you know you won’t like it if you don’t TRY it??” (Actually it was my first boyfriend, arf).

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