A Player at the Literary Casino

If you’re a writer, you’re a gambler, even if you’ve never played blackjack or roulette. You make bets at the literary casino with the most valuable, irreplaceable resource – time.

Perhaps the greatest challenge is deciding how much time you’re prepared to wager on a single bet. You start writing a short story, but soon realise that fully developing the concept will require a much larger project. You were prepared to gamble a few hours on a short story, but are you willing to go all in with several months or a year on a novel?                                                 

When you’re a player at the literary casino, you must be flexible, ready to change the game. You have a great story idea which you plan to write as a novel, but then you find out a local theatre company is looking for new plays. Why not roll the dice, and write one based on your story idea? If your play is chosen, your name will appear in the program; an excellent opportunity to raise your public profile. A good review mentioning your name in a newspaper or magazine would be even better     

Playing at the literary casino requires strategy. Once you’ve finished writing a book, do you send the manuscript to a traditional publisher, or do you self-publish? It could take months or years to find a traditional publisher willing to print your book, but it’s more likely to be placed in physical bookstores and libraries, than self-published books.

If you want to keep costs down and publish your book immediately, you can self-publish an eBook. The downside is that, if it’s only available as an eBook, it won’t be as visible as physical books on shelves and display tables.

Due to the popularity of self-published eBooks, a new industry has developed: pre-made eBook covers. Although it’s convenient, you have to be careful, because some of the eBook cover designers offer the same cover for multiple sales. In other words, you could end up buying a cover that has already been used for another writer’s eBook.

Especially for writers without an agent, trying to sell feature length screenplays is probably the most challenging game at the literary casino. It’s a high-risk gamble with time, because many film and television companies won’t read a screenplay unless it’s submitted by an agent, and some agents won’t take you on as a client, until you’ve already sold a screenplay, or at least had one optioned.

Fortunately, there are still some film companies willing to accept unsolicited screenplays from writers without agents. Before they read your screenplay, however, you’ll have to sign a release agreement, acknowledging that they may have already received screenplays with concepts similar to the one you’re submitting. It will be difficult (if not impossible) to take legal action if they produce a film with a concept similar to the one you’ve submitted. Despite the potential risk, I’ve submitted screenplays to numerous film and television companies, after signing release agreements. If you want to play this game, you better have steady nerves.   

Imagine that you’ve just had a screenplay accepted by a film company. If they’re willing to pay you up front, that’s great, but you might be asked to make a wager on the film itself. An independent film company with limited resources might offer you a deferred payment option, promising you a portion of the film’s profit. Although it’s possible the film won’t make any money, and therefore you won’t get paid, don’t walk away from the table yet; there’s still the onscreen credit to consider. The cold, hard reality is that until you have an onscreen credit, the film and television industry doesn’t know you exist. Even if the deferred payment option doesn’t put any cash in your bank account, you should make sure you get an onscreen credit for your efforts.   

Consulting with a lawyer is always a wise decision before signing contracts. As with agents, lawyers know what has to be included in contracts,mmn to protect your interests.  

What’s exciting about the literary casino is that once you learn the basics, there’s no limit to the games you can play. The writing skills you acquire in high school and university are the building blocks you need to write blogs, articles, essays, short stories, plays, novels, non-fiction books, and screenplays. Once you decide to play, the only question is how much time you’re willing to wager. The stakes get higher, the more hours you spend working on a project, but so do the potential rewards.

A warning to anyone interested in betting their time at the literary casino; writing is addictive. There are novelists and screenwriters who’ve earned millions through their craft and could retire at any time, but continue to create new material. They can’t stop, because they love the game.