In my 18 years as a content producer, I’ve certainly gotten my share of query letters. Thousands, in fact. I’ve seen every gimmick in the book from writers desperate for a response. Some have included script pages, gifts, photos, videos, or lengthy dissertations on why their life story needs to be told. Everything but showing up at my office, and forcing me to read the script at gunpoint. The funny thing is, all of these shenanigans are not only unnecessary, but actually detrimental. There are a few very simple do’s and don’ts that, while not guaranteed to elicit a response, will certainly make your query more effective.
Research the Company – Take a few minutes to look up background and credits on the production company you’re querying. Make sure your material is a fit. A company that makes $100 million action films isn’t going to request your $5 million high school drama.
Engage a Specific Individual – Instead of addressing your letter “Dear Development Executive” or “To Whom It May Concern,” get the name of the actual flesh-and-blood person at the company who would be reviewing the material. The less generic it feels, the more willing they’ll be to engage.
Keep It Short and Sweet – Overly long query letters not only look unprofessional and ask more of a producer’s time than he’s likely to give, but also allow the impression that you’re verbose and long-winded. Not exactly the way you want to come across in an industry where brevity on the page is prized.
Write a Good Logline – This is the single most important part of your query – a concise, one-sentence description of the plot. It informs the producer of the genre, scope, tone, characters, central conflict and stakes in your story. Make sure it’s right near the top of the letter.
Supporting Info – After the logline, include one short paragraph detailing any key supporting information about the project, such as cast attachments, competition wins, preexisting material it’s based on, or whether there’s partial funding in place.
A Relevant Bio – After selling the merits of the project, now it’s time to sell yourself. Include a one-paragraph bio referencing any relevant background such as past credits, entertainment industry experience, education or personal connections to the material.
Proofread – Go over your letter several times. Then, proof it with your spell check program. Then, have a friend read it. Make sure it’s free of typos and bad grammar. If a producer doesn’t think you can write a one-page letter, they’re not going to feel very inspired about your 100-page script.
No Solicitation Policies – If a company’s legal policy specifically states that it does not accept unsolicited submissions, don’t bother querying them. They won’t even read the letter. Companies like this only read material they request or that’s submitted by a bona fide agent.
Gifts – Don’t waste your time or money. It doesn’t work. Producers care about the quality of the story and your writing ability, not token trinkets.
Script Pages – Never include the script (or even the first few pages of the script) with your letter. If a producer wants to read the material, he’ll request it. And, most producers will require that you sign a liability release before they read anything anyway.
Photos, Videos and Back-up Material – If you feel there are important supporting documents or media that will help sell the script, mention it in the letter with the rest of the key information. If the producer wants to see it, he’ll request it with the script.
SASE – Don’t bother sending a self-addressed stamped envelope with a written query. Just put your phone number and email address under your name. No one snail-mails responses back anymore.
Chastising – Don’t insinuate that the producer would be “foolish” not to request the material. It comes across as arrogant and presumptuous, especially if you have no real credits.
Quitting – Don’t ever give up. You may have to send out 100 queries before you get one response, but that one might be the first step in getting your project off the ground.
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Mark Heidelberger co-founded Beverly Hills-based Treasure Entertainment in 2000, serving as a film executive, producer and literary manager until 2011 before going freelance. He has produced music videos for artists Janelle Monae, Snoop Dogg, Nicki Minaj and John Michael Montgomery as well as commercials for Lamborghini, Con Air and Cox Media, to name a few. Film and TV credits include Harsh Times, Comfort, Ninja Apocalypse, It’s Not You It’s Me, Pray for Rain and Hallmark Channel’s You’ve Got a Friend. Often times, he also performs ghostwriting services on screenplays in addition to his producing duties. He is a member of the Producers Guild of America. He holds a BA in Film Studies from UCSB and a MFA in Producing from UCLA’s School of Theater, Film, and Television.