I think that may have been my final post on the subject of querying. I decided to pursue this repository of querying tips (permanent link in right column) because when asked about it by other writers I realized I had a lot of experiences to impart. Should questions keep coming that haven’t already been answered, I’ll make sure to add them. Til then, if I never have to write another query letter, it’ll be too soon!
Category Archives: Querying Tips
Don’t query until your script is ready. Sounds logical. But how do you know when it’s ready. Hold on– Things might get real patronizing real quick around here.
But really, who am I to talk? I’ve gotten read, yes. I’ve gotten repped. I’ve written probably two dozen screenplays but I’m no pro. I learn from trial and error. Maybe you do too.
So here are some questions that have come to form the rough checklist I used on my own spec scripts before pitching them in query letters:
- Does your script adhere to industry formatting standards?
- Is your script 90 to 95 pages long?
- Does it read like other professional scripts widely available to download on the internet?
- Does it have a three act structure?
- Will I be able to put it down after the first ten pages?
- Have a defining moment around page 20 where the protagonist makes a decision to either accept or to reject his journey?
- Does your writing have a consistent and distinct voice?
- Have you read your dialogue out loud?
- Have you re-read the entire script word for word at least two or three times just to check for typos?
- Have you had your script read by everybody you know?
- By the people who are able to tell you the truth without you getting all testy?
- Have you had it read by the closest thing you can find to an accomplished screenwriter?
- Is this literally your first screenplay? Like literally, literally?
- If so have you considered putting it aside of at least six months working on tons of other things, forgetting about it entirely then re-reading it with the fresh eyes of a newborn child?
- Is this your first draft? Have you considered throwing that away and starting over?
I’m certain there are more questions. It’s a long checklist. And always evolving. I guess my point is, there’s writing your script and then there’s making sure it’s ready to be read.
And that goes well beyond the realm of querying tips.
Very rarely was I fortunate enough to get a pass on a script and hear: What else have you got?
The more likely scenario was to get a pass and not get the question. My impetuous mistake in those situations was to volunteer what else I had. When I started querying the US, I had such a stockpile of scripts that my knee-jerk response was always: You didn’t like that? No problem. How about this? Or this? Or this? I’d hammer them with all my great loglines.
I can only surmise that this registered one of two ways with all the execs. Either, one, I just read and passed on this guy’s script, why would I want to read another one of the same caliber? Or two, this writer’s got too many scripts lying around to be any good.
You’ve got to go away to come back. I was coming on too strong. Reeking of desperation. I eventually learned to thank the exec for reading. Told them that I would query them again in the future (told them; never asked – if you ask and receive no response then you’re tortured). And then waited 6 to 8 weeks before querying them again. Even if I had another script ready go then and there.
The unspoken, unconscious subtext here is that you’ve gone away, honed your skills and now you’re back. Better than ever. And hey, maybe you are.
Passes (rejections) aren’t the worst outcome of a query or read. They’re opportunities.
Worst outcome of a query is an email bounce. A pass is an acknowledgement. A – perhaps fleeting – chance for correspondence. I made the mistake early on of taking these opportunity to ask the dumbest yet most natural question: If not this, then what are you looking for?
If not a snarky response, this question is most likely to solicit no response at all.
I finally realized there are two questions that I can ask that most execs will answer: What genre are you currently seeking? And in what budget range? The answers to these two questions are always readily available. This fact should also give you a lot of insight into what guides these people’s decisions.
With passes on actual reads I would always ask for notes. Rarely get them, but I’d always ask. When I was fortunate enough to get feedback I’d make sure to give it very careful consideration. There’s no use arguing. Or telling them you’ll do another draft. Move on with the insight and try to keep that relationship going in the future.
Researching execs and companies you may find they have tendencies toward certain genres. Take note of these but remember that they’re not always hard and fast rules.
Often information about what execs are not interest in can be more helpful. It can be a time saver. But even then people’s tastes can change. Pay attention to the dates on the sources of your information and the companies they were working with at the time. Some companies are very genre specific, even if their current employees are not.
The fringe genres evoke the most prejudice. Some people absolutely won’t look at horror. Some are only interested in family. Again, time saving info.
What I found helpful about learning someone’s genre preferences was that I could tailor my logline to suit them. If they were mostly into R comedy, I could be a little more R in my logline. If they were art house snobs I could focus on character elements over the fact that it’s a romcom.
Some of the better read requests that I got were when I queried somebody outside my expectation of their genre. I assume this is because, at the end of the day, no exec is going to turn down a concept they think they can take to the bank.
The executives you’re querying get a lot of emails every day. So many, that if your logline fails to impress you’ll likely be quickly forgotten. This is a good thing. It means you have a second chance to make a first impression. Several, if that’s what it takes.
I always waited at least three months before querying the same project to the same exec. Often this second query would include a whole new logline and/or title. Sending out a bunch of queries and not getting any responses can be a clue that something’s not working with your pitch. Sometime however, I would re-query an exec with the exact same letter a second time and receive a read request. Could be an email is dismissed because you caught someone at lunch. Could be a query was passed on because it wasn’t right for an exec at that time. As long as you don’t abuse an exec’s inbox there’s nothing wrong with giving your script another shot.