Monday, August 10, 2009

Query Letters

To blog or not to blog - that is the question. I've decided to give it a shot, since I seem to get the same questions from clients and potential clients each week. I'm hoping this blog will be a user-friendly way to address some of the basic comments and proofreading issues that I see repeatedly. I may even use it to gripe about what is - or isn't - happening with my own screenplay submissions.

This week, query letters seem to be on people's minds. If you've been to lately, you know I've added a query letter service for $25 each letter. At first, I was resistant to reviewing query letters, but then I realized it's silly to proof and edit scripts without offering to look at the query letters. Why? Because even if you've written the best script around, no one's going to read it if your query letter doesn't sell. After all the time you've put into your script, don't shortchange the amount of effort your query letter requires.

So, what should you put in your query letter? Well, I can't really think of an instance that wouldn't call for at least one rock-solid logline. But beyond that, how you draft your query depends on two basic issues:

1. Who are you targeting - a production company, manager or agent?

2. Do you have writing accomplishment that can help you sell yourself, or are your logline and synopsis your best selling points?

A production company generally wants to know about a project that you want them to fall in love with and buy. A manager generally wants to know about your scope of work so they can help you build a career. And an agent - well, that sort of depends. They can represent one project or they can represent you as a writer. Of course, these are generalities. Sometimes, a manager may choose to represent just one script instead of the actual writer.

When I query a prodco, I include one logline, a short (and oh-so-compelling) synopsis and my writing history. When I query an agent or manager, I list multiple loglines and my writing history. I don't include a synopsis for any of the scripts.

Depending on who I am querying, I may also change my tone. For example, if I'm sending a query about one comedy script to a prodco, I may get a little tongue-in-cheek in my letter to match the script's tone.

Of course, if you can make some personal reference as to why you are querying this specific person or company, so much the better. Don't go into too much detail - just let them know that you know who they are and that you chose them for a reason other than that they happened to be included in your copy of the HCD.

One final note - here's why I always include a writing history: If you can show that someone else out there thinks that you can write - either by mentioning a contest placement, prior representation or an option or sale - you seem like less of a gamble. This doesn't mean you can't query if you don't have any of these things to include yet. Everyone has to start somewhere. But if you have something to support your claim that you can write, get it in there. A query letter is a sales pitch, so be sure you've sold yourself to the best of your ability.


  1. Thanks Elisa, this is good info. It looks like there's not always a 'one size fits all' when it comes to query letters.

  2. Exactly, Jason. Whenever possible, I make little changes to my query letter depending on who I'm sending it to. They all have the same base - and I don't change my loglines once I think they're solid - but I personalize the letter depending on who the person is and what they do.

    As for the loglines, I sometimes test two different loglines in two different versions of a letter. Then, if I see one generates a better response, I make that my permanent logline. That's what you get after working in advertising for years and testing everything. :)