September 28, 2011

Query letters: the dos and don'ts from TV Writer Chat

Hello my fuzzy little learn-a-lots!
It's been a while since the last post, but I've been doing script editing classes at the same time #Scriptchat and #TVWriterChat have been running.
In this humanised transcript, you'll learn the lowdown on querying. This applies more to those of you with several completed scripts, but hey, it doesn't hurt to learn whatever stage you're at.

Soon I'll be posting the extensive notes from Steve Kaplan's intensive one-day comedy screenwriting seminar, so keep you brain-eyes open for that one.

Let's get to it...


Definition: A single-page pitch of an idea to an agent/manager (or other desired party), to see if they are interested in reading a script or manuscript.

TV WRITER CHAT Sunday 25th September 

* A query letter is a business letter. Short, succinct, positive. It can be used as a pitch or a resumé.
* After sending one out, you often wait months to hear back (if you get a bite at all).
* Call first before sending. Make it solicited or chances are it’ll go into a junk email folder. Show initiative! Also by calling you can tailor your query to them.
* Without a name to address the query to, your script goes to the bottom of the pile.
* Suggested methods of writing a query:
First version – Three paragraphs; 1. Why you’re writing to them, 2. The pitch, 3. About you (your professional writing details only).
Second version – 1. Why you’re writing to them, 2. One sentence identifying project, 3. Tagline, logline, and one paragraph synopsis.
* Referrals are essential to get anywhere. If you can get a referral relevant to the company, even better. Start the query with it.
* IMDb Pro will get you savvy enough about a company for you to talk comfortably on the phone to them.
* Another way to query (and/or potentially get a referral) is to ask to meet them for coffee, to get their advice. A higher percentage will say yes than to a written query.
* TV queries are more about building relationships. Film queries are more about selling your script.
* In the TV world, connections are almost always made from existing relationships (and most work is attained through previously built relationships too).
* Hollywood Creative Directory is a great resource for finding companies to query. Go to
* Check out the Hollywood Representation directory for managers/agents.
* Use Facebook and Twitter to make queries. You may have some surprising luck and can be easier getting to people (but there’s a fine line between professional and a pest!)
* BE POSITIVE! Don’t list shortcomings like “Though I haven’t written for TV before...” Write about what you can do and why your project is awesome and why sunshine radiates out your butt.
* In features and in novels, you’re selling story. In TV, you’re selling yourself.
* If you get an ‘honorable mention’ in a competition, it can help, so mention it! Mike Alber, writer for Death Valley, got his start that way.
* When querying talent (like actors), hit up their manager – not their agent!
* Timing is critical with queries. You may not get a look-in simply because the timing is off for the person you’re querying. But things change!
* In general, managers are better for shaping a new writer’s career. “Agents take phonecalls, managers make phonecalls.”
* If you are successful with a query, the next steps are meetings and phonecalls. OR you may be asked “What else have you got?” So keep writing! They’ll test to see if you’re a one-trick pony. So don’t put your material out to stud until you’ve got a few solid scripts in your paddock. Wow, worst analogy ever.
* If your script is funny, be sure to be funny in the query. Sell yourself, dammit! Show them who you are.
* Follow @ScriptRoom on Twitter.
-‘How to make it in Hollywood’ – has great strategies for how to approach queries and meetings.
-‘Selling your story in 60 seconds’ by Michael Hauge.

This week my writing exercise for you is a simple one: practice writing a query letter. Even if your script isn't complete, writing a logline and synopsis can be important in honing your script, finding its essence.
You can try out either of the formats suggested above, and tweak it to suit you, and you could look at some screenwriting books to see how they do them.
And remember to have fun with it. It's like you're getting someone else excited in the thing you've poured so much energy into and you're excited about, even though no-one will see it. Practice is vital with anything in screenwriting.
Plus it'll only take you 20 minutes!

Screenwriters Anonymous - where you can admit to being a writer without getting that look.

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