Just finished the ScreenPLAY Professional Screenwriting Weekend last week, and we had great fun. The writers all showed up with a tremendous professional attitude.

Of course, being professional implies earning money at some point, which led me to consider the key question at the heart of being a professional writer.

The right question follows soon. First here’s the wrong question:

Beginner writers who want to sell their scripts ask, “Who will buy this?”

That’s an important question but it’s not the most important issue. The big question is, “Who will watch this?”

Once you know who your audience is, and know it well, then finding a buyer becomes much more focused and efficient.

This is not about writing for the market – writing for the market is not a good idea. It’s about writing with an understanding of the market, so that you can ensure that what you want to write gets made and helps you pay the bills.

There are three things you need to do, to find out who will watch your film – whether cinema or TV.

1. Read the trades – for example Screen International or Variety for movies, Broadcast or Variety for TV. This is not really an option, it’s an essential investment of your time and (probably) money. If you are lucky you may find them at your local library or film institute, however a subscription now also brings daily online updates.

Also read the appropriate newspapers – in the UK that means the Guardian Media supplement for TV (Mondays) and Music & Film supplement (Fridays). I would add the Review supplement on Saturdays which covers the art and craft of writing of all kinds.

2. Thoroughly research every kind of film or TV programme that is in any way like yours. Find out who it appealed to. Where and when did it show? Large multiplexes or specialist cinemas? Prime time BBC1 or 3am on Channel 5? What was it about them that worked (or didn’t work) for those audiences?

The film and TV guides are essential here. Also some of the trades, such as Screen International have online databases that will give you background information.

To some extent your target audience will probably start with you – most writers write films or programmes that they would watch themselves. But you need to go deeper than this, if you are not going to be left with an audience of one.

Be ruthlessly honest with yourself here and don’t take anything for granted. Don’t assume you know what appeals to a multiplex or specialist audience. Find out. Which leads to…

3. Get out and talk to industry professionals. Try out your ideas – find out if what you are proposing will work for the audience you think is yours.

Go to festivals, networking events and trainings. Again, these are important investments of time and money. There is no substitute for direct contact with other industry professionals.

Once you know your audience, you are much closer to knowing who to sell to – because they will most probably be making the companies you’ve just researched, making films and programmes for the same audience as you.

And if you’ve taken on board what your research has told you, you’ll be able to target them in a way that will make them want to read your script.

Happy hunting!