Screenwriting : Query letters by Emily Hu

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Emily Hu

Query letters

Hi, everyone! I'm ready to begin the [terrifying] process of sending out queries for my feature screenplay. What have been your favorite approaches for query letters? Do you prefer email, snail mail, fax, smoke signals? Do you cold-call production companies? (And try to keep your voice steady as you do so?) Do you narrow by genre or just blast out queries to every agent/producer/manager/alien overlord/fairy godmother you can find with a credit on IMDB? I'm curious to hear what's worked for people in the past, as well as what hasn't worked. Hollywood is a truly fickle beast sometimes!

David Taylor

In terms of 'letters', Email wins. Meeting people is good. Check out script calls. (I confess I have never tried smoke signals, or fairy godmothers and may give those some thought). Good luck.

LindaAnn Loschiavo

Emily, leaving a crisp $100 bill on the right person's deck might come in handy . . . :-D

Mike Romoth

My understanding is that cold-call queries have as much chance at success as buying lottery tickets. However, pitching directly to interested parties via the Happy Writers program on S32 (or any of the other services) seems to work a lot better. This is a good site for learning a lot about how to approach the process of selling your work.

Jim Duncan

Yeah, I would say sending out unsolicited query letters (at least to established producers and bigger agencies) is typically about as rewarding as buying lottery tickets, Emily. You will do a lot of sitting around waiting for long periods of time, only to eventually get a form-letter rejection stating they don't take unsolicited query letters. In the past, I've had the most success by doing research to find the few production companies or agents who you feel (based on their past work) might be most receptive to your work, and then trying to phone a specific individual who handles acquisitions or creative development for them. It's difficult to get through, but sometimes you can, and then if you are ready with a very strong (and quick) verbal hook regarding what your screenplay is about, they might allow you to send it to them. One decent producer or agent who then thinks of you as a professional, and is willing to take your calls or respond to an email, is worth about 1,000 unsolicited query letters, in my opinion.

Victoria Kinkade has a list of prod cos and agents - and whether they accept cold queries or not, and for what genres. Also, if you're a member of imdb you can do some research there. Bottom line is that you have to research. It also helps if you sit down and think about who you might know (or who they might know) that you can persuade to get you in touch, or in the door, with someone who may have a voice. Good luck!

Emily Hu

Thanks for your advice, everyone. I am on IMDBPro, currently trying to put together a database of companies and agencies that might be interested in my work. It's slow going but I think I'll end up trying a bit of everything in the end: pitching at Happy Writers, sending query letters, maybe even cold-calling a few companies that seem an especially good fit even though I'm no good over the phone. (Ironic, seeing as I'm a psychologist and I spend all day teaching patients about conquering fear and anxiety. Maybe I'll use some of my therapeutic techniques to get through this.)

Michael Hager

Right here ^^ on the Happy Writers is a great place to go. Not easy. But great. Joey Tuccio is the guy for that, just don't tell him I told you ;-)

Emily Hu

Yes, I think I may try out one of their services in the future, possibly for the script I'm currently working on. S32 has so many resources, I don't know which one to access first!

Emily Hu

Thank you, Paul. I am working on it and hopefully will get good results.

Jean-Pierre Chapoteau

I got ImdbPro for that exact reason. I've been collecting a ton of info on low level production companies and agents, etc (and A list ones too just for kicks). What goes in the query letter though. I figured the shorter the better (just your logline) but I've heard people mention a short synopsis. Do you guys aggree? How short? Anyone have an example?

Gina Leone

I received requests for my scripts & pilots from Virtual Pitchfest. I do plan on trying to pitch here too. :)

Emily Hu

Gina, I am curious as to your experience with VPF. I am considering trying them out, but I don't know how skewed their "success stories" are. Do you feel it is worth the money, or recommend pitching elsewhere? Jean-Pierre, I learned to write query letters by reading a ton of samples online and also using the Screenwriter's Bible (you can buy it on Amazon; it has great examples and tells you exactly the do's and dont's of querying). I'd like to give you my current query letter as a sample but since I haven't started officially querying companies yet, I don't think I would be the best role model right now. :) Hopefully someone else on this thread will help you!

Craig D Griffiths

I have not written a query letter but I have written some advertising and there is a framework I keep in mind (AIDA), Attention, Interest, Desire Action. If you focus on these in this order it lines up with how people process information. Your opening line should get their attention like a great opening shot. You have to find a way of peaking their interest which will lead into a desire to find out more or contact you. You must leave them with something to act on. This is the "Call Now" in the late night TV spot. The one over arching thing is that you have to speak 100% in terms of benefit to them. Which means you have to understand what they want and need. What do they hold dear to their heart? I hope this helps.

W. Keith Sewell

Yes, Like Craig stated, "The one over arching thing is that you have to speak 100% in terms of benefit to them. Which means you have to understand what they want and need. " Their interests and hobbies as well - but don't get 'stalker creepy'. VPF is great for practicing different query techniques for a relatively cheap price on professionals. Most will give you some sort of feedback over the standard pass statement. Also in-depth feedback is available for a price. Emily, I am finding cold-calling helps with the "phobia...". Like you, at the start, I am at DefCon 3 by the second ring, and DefCon 1 by the time they answer the phone, but the anxiety eases over time and with constant practice. Face your fears! (kinda therapeutic huh?). Also, there are countless Prodcos and managers that accept unsolicited material, unproduced writers, get a copy of the latest screenwriting directory, they're usually up to date on who to contact, where and when, and their submission guidelines. Chase down the assistants, build a relationship online or in special groups, it may take some time but over time you may end up with a valuable adversary and a friend. The best door openers have been and always will be your networking skills. Get out there and get involved. A referral from a reputable producer, writer, actor will put your project near the top of the lists and not the bottom.

Kae Roshun

Thank goodness for agent submissions (novels) over the years. It's forced me to wite a a better query, which of course, will help for pitching screenplays. Thanks for this thread @EmilyHu

Ron Dean

@Emily, the best thing about that particular paid service is the agent/producer is required to at least make a response, even if it is negative. Before using that service 9 out of 10 queries I would send out, rather by paper or email, would never receive a response. I once received a response form an agency two years after I submitted a script to them. At least with VPF I get an answer within 5 days, and some have been kind enough to comment on the story line or why this will or will not work in the current market.

Evelien And Dorien Twins

We've had some success when it comes to querying via email. Whether they accept unsollicited queries or not, most of them do read their email. It often doesn't go straight into a junk folder (it does with some). We've been looking into Virtual Pitchfest and might turn to them (or S32 happy writers) in the future but can't speak from our own experiences when it comes to either of those services.

Emily Hu

Some very interesting and contrasting viewpoints here. Always nice to see a healthy debate. :) I'm beginning to think from what everyone is saying that cold queries aren't the way to go. Seems many Hollywood insiders don't publish their emails publicly either (not on IMDBPro, anyway) so email querying may not be the best approach. Maybe I'll try submitting this script a few times through VPF and Happy Writers events, see what sticks. And if not, file it and work on something new. Lord knows I can always use the practice.

Emily Hu

Thank you, Emmett! I'll go check it out. S32 has been so great about pointing out resources I never even knew existed.

Bradley Spence

Emily, If you can send queries via smoke signals, I think you deserve a pitch meeting solely on that! :-)

Evelien And Dorien Twins

we do like to use things like IMDBpro for cross referencing before querying. it’s such a great source to find out which agents/companies are interested in which types of projects - your time is better spend sending queries to ppl you know have an interest in your genre than just sending your queries out to whomever all willy-nilly (I.E: you can have THE BEST sci-fi script ever, if you query it to someone who’s only interested in repping drama, just because they have "literary agent" on their business card, you’re basically wasting time IOO)

Evelien And Dorien Twins

won’t let us edit so we’ll add not only for checking which types of projects they’d be interested in but also their current client roster and clientele genre

Becca-Chris M

Hi Emily, First, nice to "meet" you! My co-writer and I have done email queries, after first asking the companies if they were accepting queries. It's been awhile since we've done this (as we're really focusing on rewriting the same scripts), so I'm uncertain of the direction we will take in the future. Btw, do you use IMDBpro?

Emily Hu

Becca, I do use IMDBPro; it's been very helpful in terms of finding out who represents which successful writers. I try to use it as a backup research tool whenever I submit queries.

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