Monday, October 22, 2012

Queries and Pitches, Do's and Don'ts

Google QUERY LETTERS for more
In the past week I was the keynoter at a local writers conference, which is always a joy for me because I get to meet other writers and hear story pitches and the wonderful ideas floating around in the minds of creative types.

A day or two before, a taped television interview of my appearance on Episode 6 of Living Right with Dr. Ray, was aired on EWTN. In that segment, in part, I discuss The Moral Premise and how filmmakers engender stories with themes and what they mean to families. (They have me listed as "Steve Williams" on the episode list, I see.)

As a result of the on-air appearance, as expected, I get some emails with pitches and queries... which prompts me now to make a few comments about sending queries to filmmakers and others.

When you want to send a query, here are some tips.

1. ASK FIRST if the person accepts queries. Save us both some time. In my case, I very rarely produce other people's creative works. I have no funding in place to produce my own stuff, let alone the work of others.... even when the work of others is better than my own. I have attempted from time to time to put together a funding package to produce a slate of films, but I'm not there.... yet. So, I don't accept queries.

If the person you're wanting to query says "Yes" to the above question, then...and only then:

2. WRITE A SHORT PROFESSIONAL QUERY. Your query email or letter should include three VERY short paragraphs, under the RE heading: "QUERY" -- and after the salutation in which you WILL spell the person's name right. ONLY include relevant information to the work you're pitching.
Paragraph 1: State the purpose of the query and what prompted you to write. "Dear Small Time Producer. // Thank you for speaking with me Saturday at the Writer's conference. Below is a log line for my completed romantic comedy screenplay, BREAKING IN, which has my bosses daughter attached to play the lead; you may have heard of her, "ANGELICA BEARTRAP."

Paragraph 2: The Log Line. "A desperate wannabe novelist battles the gatekeepers of a famous editor by breaking into the editor's office to put her manuscript on the top of the editor's pile with cleverly written faux coverage. Unbeknownst to the desperate writer, the editor is a nigh owl who returns to her office to find the writer caught by and flailing from from the ceiling fan like a monstrous mobile."

Paragraph 3: No more than 25 word bio of your professional credits. You can add another 25 words if someone of note has said something good about your writing, not your cooking, or your good looks, or how nice your mother is.
And sign off with your phone number.

When writing...don't be presumptuous.
  • Make any judgement about the quality of the story or your writing. That you're willing to submit anything to another person for review means you think it's good.
  • Make no judgement or recommendation about how well the story/movie/novel will do in the marketplace. Why? Because you don't know. Really, no one knows. As Bill O'Reilly would say, "When writing... don't be presumptuous."
  • Use any graphics, or emotion-cons, creative use of typography, asides, pictures.
  • Make casting suggestions
  • Relay how much your mother loved it. If she was like most mothers she wiped your butt as a kid and didn't complain. 
  • Mention any irrelevant connections.... like your religious faith,  unless you're pitching a story about that faith.  (I'm Catholic. I hear from other Catholics or Christians that want to pitch something to me because they believe I'll be receptive to them because they're Catholic. Honestly, when their Catholic affiliation is mentioned I'm turned off. Why? Because I have not met that many good Catholic writers, and the ones I have met are generally presumptuous about their craft on account of their faith. Believe me, in this world, in this country, at this time in history, THERE IS NO SUCH RELATIONSHIP... although there should be.
  • That you have proofed your query email or letter several times. Obviously typos (like I usally make) suggest that you're unprofessional.
  • That the work you are offering is yours to offer. That is it is your OWN creative work, or you OWN the copyright and the right to pedal its sale. Don't say so, but if you do not own the work completely, be sure that will kill any sale in the next steps. It will also poison your future relationship with the contact.
  • That you will follow industry rules of order in registering the copyright and the work with the Writer's Guild of America (if it's a screenplay). Don't bother mentioning this, but be sure that if you don't, you won't make a sale.
  • It is assumed that the work is properly formatted. Don't bother saying so.  But be sure that if it isn't, you won't make the sale.
  • You have the sense to follow professional etiquette and protocol. If you don't, you won't sell anything today or in the future.
  • A good story
  • Well-told
  • Professionally (i.e. respect for industry protocol, which can be learned from the many books on the topic. And here's one I recommend from my friend Michael Hauge: SELLING YOUR STORY IN 60 SECONDS.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thank you, Stan.


Anna Labno