Archive for The Business

crumpled white paper on a grey backgroundIt’s always entertaining to hear agents complaining about the bad query letters they receive, but could you be making one of the mistakes that annoy them? Here are ten things not to put in your query letter:

1. That your script is better than [name of most recent super-successful film]

2. That your family and friends loved the script

3.That it’s “[name of one successful film] meets [name of another successful film]” – this is has been a cliche since Robert Altman satirized it in The Player

4. That you have all kinds of ideas for sequels, spin-offs, merchandizing, etc.

5. That the lead role would be perfect for [name of top-grossing actor/actress of the moment]

6. That this isn’t the final draft but it’s good enough for the agent to decide whether or not he or she is interested

7. Experience, hobbies, or interests not directly relevant to the content of the script

8. That you’re willing to pay the agent a higher commission than normal for handling the script

9. That “there are plenty more ideas or plenty more scripts where this came from”  if they don’t like this one

10. That this is the first screenplay you’ve written

Avoid these and your query letter won’t be one of the ones agents complain about. By the way, these are also things to avoid mentioning when you’re pitching a project.

(for helpful guidance in writing your screenplay or book, get a copy of Your Writing Coach, published by Nicholas Brealey and available from Amazon or your other favorite bookseller.)

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A man's silhouette in the sunset with a treeA log line for a screenplay or a blurb for a book is one of the hardest thing to write. One of the constructions I see a lot that, in my opinion, doesn’t work very well includes this phrase:

…not suspecting that his/her life is about to change forever.

I’m sure you care if YOUR life is about to change forever but it’s hard to care whether the life of some character about whom we know almost nothing is about to change.

The writer who uses that phrase hopes it’s enticingly mysterious. Actually, it’s just vague.

A better strategy is to give away a bit more, especially if the change is one to which potential readers and viewers can relate. For instance:

…not suspecting that his resemblance to a killer is about to send him into the hell of today’s criminal justice system.

…not suspecting that her curiosity is going to reveal her husband’s a secret life with another woman.

…not suspecting that the price of his ambition is losing the love and respect of his wife and children.

While these are extreme, they touch upon fears that most people will have experienced at some point: that they may be accused mistakenly, that someone they trust has betrayed them, that the price of success is too high.

Incorporating a universal element, even as briefly as this, will make a pitch or blurb come alive–and that could lead to a sale, in which case your life may be about to change forever!

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The key to selling your screenplay is getting the right people to read it. They key to getting the right people to read it is to be creative in your approach (the traditional ones are used by everybody and they clog up the system and tend not to get through). The key to being more creative is to steal, uh, I mean adapt, ideas from other fields.

 For example, take the Underground Book Club. They are distributing hard copies of the first three chapters of various books at major London train stations during the busiest commuting hours. The hope is that instead of reading their newspapers or work reports, commuters will sample these books and then want to buy some of them in order to read the rest. The samples are also available online.

Does that give you any ideas? First let’s look at the principles behind the effort:

  1. Find out where your target market is and go there.
  2. Give them something new, different, interesting
  3. Create a desire to take the next step—the one that earns you some money
  4. Make it easy to take that step

So….your target market is agents and producers. Where could you find them? Perhaps at conferences and film festivals, for instance. Could you give them something on their way in or out? If so, do it on public property, because the organizers of the event are unlikely to let you do it on their patch.

What could you give them? They won’t take a script, but maybe a pitch in the form of a graphic novel page.

The next step you want them to take is to ask to read your script and if your ‘taster’ is intriguing enough they will. You could include a simple to remember email address for them to use. If it’s a producer who says they’ll read it only via an agent, now you have a nice hook with which to approach an agent: “Producer X has expressed interest in reading my script but only if it’s submitted via an agent. Would you be willing to submit it?” They’re much more liable to do that when a producer has already asked to read it.

If this idea doesn’t appeal to you…come up with one of your own! The idea is to apply your creativity to marketing what you write, as well as to writing.

 (You’ll find plenty of additional ideas about marketing your work, in my book “Your Writing Coach.” You can get it from Amazon or your other favorite bookseller. You may also want to check out “Do Something Different,” published by Virgin Books with an introduction by Richard Branson. It includes 100 case studies of how people marketed their products inexpensively and creatively.)

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