Screenwriters and novelists are frequently told that before pursuing representation, they should have at least two completed screenplays or manuscripts. Agents prefer more than one writing sample because they want to be certain you’re committed to writing as a career, and aren’t just tossing them something you knocked off in a weekend. They want to see how you can develop a variety of characters, stories and even genres. And if you’re a talented writer but a producer or editor isn’t interested in your initial submission, you will already have a backup story to pitch or show them.
Certainly completing two or more scripts before approaching anyone in power helps insure that you’re putting the best possible example of your talent out there. The more you write, the better you get – it’s really that simple. But I don’t necessarily agree that you need to wait to have two completed scripts or novels to begin marketing yourself. Here’s the approach I would take:
As soon as your first screenplay or manuscript has attained a professional level of quality, go ahead and begin your pursuit of agents and production companies or editors. If you encounter anyone in power who insists on seeing two writing samples, just tell her that you’re currently completing the second, and will get back to her when it’s as good as the first. Meanwhile you’re getting your story read by others who don’t require two at once.
And since the marketing process takes a good amount of time, you will be hard at work on your next project at the same time as your sending out all those query letters and getting referrals and pitching your first novel or screenplay. You must also never let marketing your work interfere with your creativity. Maintain your daily writing regimen at all times, and find additional time during the day to pursue people with your completed projects.
And most important, never show your screenplay or manuscript to ANYONE in a professional capacity until it’s as close to perfection as you can get it. This means you must get the reactions of at least five other people who are knowledgeable about movies (friends, members of you writers group, professional consultants, etc.), and use those reactions as the basis for a lot of rewrites and polishes. Continue showing each new draft to more people for feedback, and keep rewriting, until you are consistently hearing that your work is as good as the scripts and manuscripts that are already being optioned and published.
Every now and then a writer’s first screenplay or novel strikes gold, so stay optimistic. But the vast majority of working writers had to keep at it much longer before they achieved success. And they now look back on their early works as learning experiences that strengthened their skill and prepared them for the success they ultimately achieved.