COMPOSING EFFECTIVE QUERY LETTERS
I often receive desperate letters from writers who say they can’t get anyone to respond to their query letters. If your letters, faxes or emails aren’t resulting in requests to read you screenplay or manuscript, it’s probably due to one or more of these six weaknesses:
1. Your writing style isn’t clear, powerful, succinct and professional. You’re claiming to be a professional writer, but this is the only evidence they have of that. If you haven’t managed to compose a single, compelling page (the buyer’s subconscious is telling him), how can your entire script or manuscript possibly be worth his time? (I detail the components of a powerful query letter in my book Writing Screenplays That Sell.)
2. Your description of the story doesn’t make it seem commercial. Your concept can’t simply sound interesting; it must be a story the producer, editor or agent thinks a financier or publisher will want to buy, or that a major star will want to commit to.
3. You’re not contacting enough buyers. Giving up because five or even ten people haven’t responded is perhaps the most common mistake new writers make. Until that number reaches at least thirty, keep plugging away.
4. You’re writing to the wrong people. If you’re submitting a romantic comedy, you must target the specific producers, agents and/or publishers who are most likely looking for that kind of project. Start with the companies that have represented, produced or published your genre in the past, not a Christian distributer or publishing house you hope will enjoy your R rated horror story.
5. You haven’t personalized each individual letter by telling the recipients why you’re contacting them in particular. Nobody wants to get a form letter, and they can tell immediately if you’re simply mass mailing your request to everyone listed in Writers Digest or on iMDbPro.com. Refer to the specific credit, referral or information (see #4 above) that led you directly to them.
6. You’re not following up. Many consultants and agents disagree with me on this, but I believe in being tenacious – phone the people you’ve targeted after you’ve approached them with your letters or emails. If you can’t get through to the people you wrote to, ask their assistants if they would read your work.
Finally, if you’re getting your work read, but no one is responding, it may be time to pull back and do a rewrite based on the comments you’re getting. Always get feedback from as many of your personal contacts as you can before you begin sending it to the people in power. You never want to submit a screenplay or manuscript until it’s absolutely professional and ready to show.