by Ann Garvin
In 2021 I pitched a book to my editors I had no idea how to write and only eight months to get it right. That’s how it is sometimes: You dream big, get the thumbs up, and you don’t get to say, just kidding—I can’t write that. Instead you say, I’ve got this, even though you don’t quite have anything … yet.
The pitch was this:
There’s No Coming Back From This: A midwestern woman gets a job as a costumer in Hollywood on a remake of all of Nora Ephron’s movies but with dogs. When she stumbles upon corruption, she relies on everyone underestimating her to keep her job while she untangles the back-lot intrigue to save the day.
The problem? I didn’t know anything about the movie business, dressing huge stars for a million-dollar production, or what kind of back-lot intrigue there might be. I watch a lot of movies and dogs are my love language, but I needed more to write a believable book that had both laughter and tears in it.
I needed information.
Here is my guide to getting backstage or behind the scenes in five simple steps.
Get the word out.
The first thing I did was mine my friends and family for connections. I talked about my idea, I asked if anyone had connections in show business and I didn’t stop until a friend of a friend gave me an email. This was a straightforward process for me that yielded results. If It hadn’t been, I already had my next steps planned: Use LinkedIn to find looser connections, examine professional costumer membership organizations, and peruse Instagram for people working in movies who already seemed open to sharing their experiences.
Make the requests.
I wrote the most grown-up and professional letter of my career. I explained who I was, what I needed, asked for a short conversation, or if they could recommend another person.
I did not use the words, “pick your brain,” nor did I ask them to volunteer their time. Each person I contacted, I offered to compensate them for their time.
I was flexible and accommodated their schedules when we made appointments. I made it clear that I would take up no more than fifty minutes of their time and I set a timer and stuck with it. I discussed how the information gleaned from our conversation might be used and promised them a first look to make sure I’d gotten in right. As we spoke, I gauged energy. I tried to ascertain if they might have interest in having another conversation or if they knew of anyone that would speak with me. I listened, did my research ahead of time to ask informed questions, and showed enthusiasm (which was easy, because I was over the moon).
I suggested an on-site visit to a movie set. because as I learned more and more about wardrobe and costuming, I realized that to write about it, I had to see if firsthand. I did not ask for my connection to be a tour guide, though that is what happened. Instead, I asked for information regarding touring the backlot, the costume shops, and multiple movie sets. When I arrived at Universal Studios, I was dressed for any temperature, had all of my physical needs satisfied, and was ready for anything. In short, I wanted to be little to no problem, interested, and an engaging guest.
Don’t forget an old-fashioned thank you.
Finally and without exception, the Thank You is the most important part of the research process. I was so grateful for the grace that was shown to me, I sent what I thought would be a fun thank-you package to receive in return. Inside that package was a handwritten thank you note, a pair of gorgeous fabric scissors, chocolate made in Wisconsin where I am from, and two books that I authored. Additoonally, I added my connection(s) to my acknowledgements and am sending each of them copies of the book when it launches. A few extra thank-you’s go a long way.
There are other steps, of course, but I believe these are the most important ones. They definitely worked for me, and I can honestly say that venturing backstage helped make There’s No Coming Back From This one of the most fun books I’ve ever written.
Ann Garvin, Ph.D., is the USA Today bestselling author of five funny and sad novels. She writes about people who do too much in a world that asks too much from them. Her most recent book, There’s No Coming Back From This, is an Amazon First Reads pick for July 2023 (Prime members can snag it for free for a limited time!). Ann is founder of the multiple award-winning Tall Poppy Writers where she is committed to helping women writers succeed.