Sunday, August 7, 2011

Striking a Balance Between "It's Good Enough" and "It's Not Perfect Yet"

It's funny how writers can be so drastically different when it comes to deciding if a script is ready to pitch. Some writers finish the second or third draft of their screenplay, and they rush to marketing, even though the product isn't ready yet. Other writers will work on a script for over a year and never send out one query, saying "it's just not perfect yet."

Somewhere between these two extremes lies the happy medium. You only get one chance to impress a pro reader with your script, so there really isn't such a thing as "it's good enough." These days, a killer concept executed in mediocrity generally won't get you past the first level of readers.

On the other hand, there's no such thing as a "perfect" script. Screenwriting is simply too subjective for the flawless script to really exist. At a certain point, you have to accept that you've done all you can do with a single script. Some readers may love it, while others may hate it. That's the nature of the medium. But unless you're really just writing for yourself, there comes a time when you have to decide your baby is polished and ready to pitch. If you're lucky, someone with money or clout will like it enough to give you notes that will ultimately change the script anyway.

There are two points I want to make during this post. The first deals with the idea that "someone is waiting on your script." The second has to do with how much time you devote to drafting your query letter.

Let's start with the first point. Sometimes, an agent, manager, producer or director really is waiting on your script and needs it yesterday. But that's not the norm for new writers. I can't tell you how many times I've had potential clients approach me with a rush job because "someone is waiting on my script."

What the writer often means is: "I mentioned the idea to a producer or rep who liked one of my other scripts, and they said they'd love to read it." This conversation happens all the time. But the producer or rep is not waiting on pins and needles for the final script. In reality, they generally have a large pile of scripts to read, and they are sincerely willing to add your script to the pile whenever you complete it. But they really don't care if it's a week, a month or a year because, once your conversation ended, they moved on to their very long "to do" list.

In the meantime, many writers rush the draft, decide "it's good enough," send it to the producer or rep, and then are surprised when the script is rejected. Bottom line: Don't submit a script when it's just "good enough" unless the producer or rep gave you a timeline and is so invested in the script that he or she is willing to give notes and continue to work with you.

Now let's take a moment to discuss the dreaded query letter. So many writers love the idea of writing a screenplay and then run screaming for the hills when it comes time to draft the marketing materials.

Here's the thing: If you have a killer query letter and a mediocre script, your script will get requested and read. If you have a mediocre query letter and a killer script, no one will ever get the chance to read your brilliant screenplay. You need to put a lot of energy into that query letter.

The query letter is not the place to explain every painstaking detail of your script. It's also not the time to basically scream that the script is brilliant and incredibly commercial and it's a can't-miss. Every single writer truly believes this about his or her script, and these statements do nothing to differentiate your pitch from the next person's.

The query letter is the time to let your concept sell itself. It is a sales tool, and it should be written as such. Keep it short — don't go over one page. When you think you're done, read your synopsis back to yourself and ask yourself a simple question: Would I feel the need to read this script? Your query letter must be compelling. That's it. It simply has to convince your target audience to request the script. Once requested, the script has to be able to sell itself. The query letter simply gets that read request.

If you have any questions about query letters, please contact me at or 954-603-6271. In the meantime, have fun writing!

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