The Dreaded Query Letter

Posted By on May 31, 2015 in Screenwriting | 0 comments

At some point, everyone has to write one of these, and I’m pretty sure it’s universally hated.

We all know that you’ve been Googling this person (manager/producer/agent/etc) obsessively, trying to figure out if they’ve ever shown any interest in this genre, who they’ve worked with, who their friends are, where they go for the hooked-up-est tacos. You’re Internet-Creeping, and hoping to score their email address so you can pop into their inbox unannounced.

We don’t talk about this. We all know it and politely refuse to acknowledge it, because it is a necessary evil. Unless you have some great connections, you’ll have to query (or pitch yourself and your work to a manager,) in the hopes of signing with them so that they can do more querying for you!

I’ve written many, many query letters. I’ve very slowly, painfully learned the proper e-query formatting, and I’d like to try to save you from making a fool of yourself (though, no promises or guarantees). Just four things to keep in mind;

1. Be brief!
No one likes to click on an email and be greeted by a wall-of-text. It harkens back to the days grandma was still trying to figure out the Internet, except we love grandma. She’s endearing with her rambling and mild racism. You’re not.

2. GRAMMARS.
Your query is the very first piece of writing you’re offering to this person, and you’re trying to sell them on your writing. It seems like a no-brainer, but proof read, HARD. If you don’t have a trusty proofreader (do not trust in Spell Check), save the draft for another day and reread it with fresh eyes.

3. DO do your research.
Again, we don’t like to be Facebook Creepers, but if you misspell the manager’s name, or refer to them by the wrong gender, they’re going to delete the email. Be less concerned with matching their genre history, because if you have a good story, any manager will want to sign you.

4. Put 95% of your e-query effort into the LOGLINE.
This brief paragraph (or 1-2 sentences) has to explain the concept of your story, as well as intrigue them enough to consider putting a couple hours toward reading some stranger’s feature. How might you explain this story to your friend after they’ve had a couple drinks? Now make it less condescending. Does your logline ignite a twinkle in that drunkard’s eye? PERFECT!

 

Now that you’ve read this far, let me drop this bomb: I can’t claim to have snared my manager with a great e-query. I lucked out; I placed well in the first screenwriting competition I entered, and with the help of Twitter, probably some alcohol, I sent a fluke query to an eager professional– I’d definitely recommend doing the Screenplay Contest grind, but unless you place, you’ll likely need to Cold Query.

 

In my querying days, I had the best response rate with the following formatting:

Email Subject line: “Query: [Your Project Title, and maybe genre/s, if it’s a short title.)

“Dear [manager’s First & Last name]:

[TITLE] is a set in… [Your logline– It’s the first thing you want them to read.]

[Brief paragraph about why this is an important story to tell, and why you’re the person to tell it. List your screenwriting/film experience, any impressive screenwriting competition placements, or any experience you have relating to your story’s content. If you don’t have any experience, go straight for your closer!]

Thanks for your time.

Sincerely,

[Your name,
Your contact information]”

 

In my experience, if you don’t get a reply within 24 hours, you’re not going to, and don’t take it personally. Imagine all the eager query letters this person gets in just one day! Often, if they were cordial enough to reply to me and tell me they weren’t interested, I was happy (and when/if this happens, feel free to respond thanking them again for their time– this is NOT the industry for grudges and burnt bridges)!

When you get a Read Request, give the reader at least a month before you Follow Up, unless they request otherwise.

If you continually don’t get a response, I’m willing to bet your logline needs revising.

 

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